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Lyle Sunderland, of Mitchell, hunts with his dog Rusty on opening day Saturday west of Mount Vernon. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)

Lower bird numbers found during pheasant opener

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The drop in pheasant numbers indicated by the state Department of Game, Fish and Parks’ annual brood survey seemed to hold true over the opening weekend of pheasant season Saturday and Sunday, and hunters had to work hard to bag their birds.

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Most hunters said they were finding birds, but not as many as last year.

“It was lower this year, but an excellent day,” said Lyle Sunderland, of Mitchell.

Sunderland and a group of 14 hunters, including his two sons, Bill and Lee Sunderland, of Phoenix, Ariz., shot 28 pheasants Saturday on Sunderland’s land west of Mount Vernon. Sunderland released 50 pregnant pheasant hens in April and planted corn and milo for wildlife.

Sunderland said it’s worth leaving “$4,000 to $5,000” worth of corn in the ground to keep deer and pheasants thriving in the area.

Lee Sunderland said the annual hunting trip is the highlight of the year. He started coming back to Mitchell from his home in Phoenix in 2001 to hunt with his dad and friends. The 10-day stay is the only vacation he takes — “no beach, no ski, just hunting with Dad.”

Brian Grim, customer experience manager with Cabela’s in Mitchell, said the store has experienced almost identical numbers of customers as last year, but in talking with customers they “are getting birds, just having to work at it.”

Chuck Layer, of Milan, Ill., finished his first of eight days of hunting 30 miles north of Mitchell, only bagging five birds among six hunters. He said the day was beautiful but the hunting was a “little less than normal.” Layer, who has been coming to Mitchell to hunt for the past 18 years, thought it was a little early in the season to compare it to his past hunts.

Nathan Baker, GF&P regional game manager for central South Dakota, said in a GF&P news release that hunters averaged about a half to one bird each and found decent bird numbers in localized areas.

“Groups were working hard in even the best habitat,” Baker said. “A majority of the crops are still in the fields because of the recent rains, but hunters were covering everything available from grass to crops to shelterbelts.”

Conservation Officer Supervisor Jeremy Roe reported that Aurora County hunters averaged a bird per group.

With an elevated concern over the reduced pheasant population and changes to habitat, the governor will host a Pheasant Habitat Summit on Dec. 6 in Huron. For more information, or to register to attend the summit, go online to gfp.sd.gov/pheasantsummit.

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