The pheasant opener always takes place on the third Saturday of October. For the next several months, hunters will enjoy being out in the fields. With more than one million acres of public hunting land available, South Dakota is widely known as the pheasant capital of the world. Folks from all over travel here to participate in our great South Dakota tradition, and at the same time make a big impact on our local economy.
According to the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks (GFP), their annual pheasant survey showed a 17 percent decline in the number of pheasants compared to last year. However, this was expected due to the heavy snow we had last winter and the high levels of precipitation during the spring and summer months. In South Dakota, weather is always something we have to be mindful of, but according to the GFP, this year’s pheasant population index is still higher than the low years of 2013 and 2017 when hunters harvested an average of 900,000 roosters. We’ll still have a good hunt, but we may just have to work harder for our birds. That’s part of the fun!
The best pheasant nesting habitat is found on land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The land that my family and I hunt on is surrounded by CRP acres. We work to improve the habitat each year by making sure there is water nearby and that we have a number of different crops planted for feed and cover. When the farm bill passed the Senate last year, I worked to make sure it included an increase in the cap of CRP acres from 24 million to 27 million acres, with 2 million acres reserved for grasslands. This will help to provide a long-term healthy habitat for pheasant populations in our state. I continue to support farmers’ and landowners’ ability to enroll more of their acres in CRP.
Like many of you, our family and friends have a pheasant opener tradition. We head out early to hunt near Presho. Our oldest grandson Ian is now old enough to hunt with the “big group,” so we’re looking forward to carrying on our family traditions. Even the kids and grandkids who don’t participate in the hunt like to join us afterward for lunch at Hutch’s Café to share stories from the day. And of course it wouldn’t be opening weekend without some “pheasant poppers,” which are a favorite of ours. You simply wrap pieces of pheasant breast with jalapeno pepper and bacon and cook it however you like — fried, grilled or baked. They’re delicious!
Making memories and getting a few birds is what opening weekend is all about for us. I hope everyone who is participating has a safe, fun and successful hunt!