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In this Oct. 7 photo, snowmobile tracks are seen in the snow between fence lines and Highway 34 east of Sturgis as area ranchers raced to find cattle that drifted beyond fenced pastures during the blizzard. An early autumn storm that devastated cattle and sheep herds in western South Dakota spared most wildlife, except for pheasants, experts said Monday. (AP Photo/Rapid City Journal, Kristina Barker)

Most wildlife survive blizzard; pheasants hit hard

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By Carson Walker

SIOUX FALLS (AP) — An early autumn storm that devastated cattle and sheep herds in western South Dakota spared most wildlife, except for pheasants, experts said Monday.

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The storm hit over the first weekend of October and started with a cold, heavy rain that soaked any creature, wild or domestic, that was not under some sort of shelter. Then the weather system turned into a blizzard that dumped several feet of snow on some areas.

Ranchers are still counting their losses.

Though most reports are anecdotal, overall wildlife deaths seem to be minimal, said John Kanta, regional wildlife manager for the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks in Rapid City.

The buffalo that roam Custer State Park all survived, as did most deer, antelope, grouse and turkeys across West River, he said.

"We haven't seen any big losses. We found a deer here, an antelope there, but no mass losses," Kanta said.

"The wildlife have those built-in instincts to do the things they need to do to get through the storm."

But the state bird didn't fare as well.

"We were already down and this storm really hit the pheasants hard. We're finding a lot of dead pheasants that were covered with snow and were buried in snow banks," Kanta said.

Mike Stephenson, of Mitchell, a regional representative of the wildlife group Pheasants Forever, said because of the wet spring, many hens nested again. But that second hatch of birds was still quite young and undeveloped when the storm hit, so a lot of them didn't make it, he said.

"It's a key time where birds have to develop and get enough protein and insects in them that they can survive and be healthy. The later in the year the hatch comes, the harder it is for them to survive," Stephenson said.

The state already expected pheasant numbers to be down, so it's not clear if the larger loss from the storm will keep any hunters away, Stephenson said.

"It is a major part of our economy, which is pheasant season," he said.

"It doesn't help."

Because of the focus on livestock deaths, the full tally of wildlife losses is just starting to take shape, said Chuck Schlueter, spokesman for the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks.

"We'll probably learn more as hunters go to the field in November," he said.

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