Hunters hope for late-season pheasant success as South Dakota's crops finally come out of the fieldsCrunching through the snow while the winter air bites their faces, Georgia natives Allen Saylor and Johnnie Nipper enjoy hunting South Dakota pheasants this time of year. The two and another friend from the Peach State shot four roosters Thursday during a late-afternoon hunt west of Mitchell.
By: Luke Hagen, The Daily Republic
Crunching through the snow while the winter air bites their faces, Georgia natives Allen Saylor and Johnnie Nipper enjoy hunting South Dakota pheasants this time of year.
The two and another friend from the Peach State shot four roosters Thursday during a late-afternoon hunt west of Mitchell. The trio walked public hunting land and ditches and said they saw “a bunch of birds.”
The men have made the nearly 1,400-mile trip from their hometown of Ashburn, Ga., for five years and say there’s always been one constant: Late-season hunting in South Dakota is never old hat.
“We’d rather hunt this time of year,” Saylor, 64, said. “There aren’t as many people around and you see more birds.”
In recent weeks, pheasant hunters around the area have been dealing with frigid temperatures, creating somewhat difficult hunts. But those who have had success say they don’t mind dealing with the bitter cold. The payoff is a high number of congregated birds.
“Of the hunters that have been going out, some have been seeing birds really well and some of them haven’t seen them in the places they expected to find them,” South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Communications Manager Chuck Schlueter said. “Late season really does become a hunt, but typically when you can find the birds, you can find a bunch of them.”
Early in the season, many hunters struggled because South Dakota’s delayed harvest created many hiding places for the state’s pheasants, estimated at approximately 7 million prior to the October opener. Wet conditions kept farmers out of the fields, giving the birds a safe haven longer than normal.
As of early this week, South Dakota’s corn harvest was 82 percent complete, well below the five-year average of 99 percent for this time of year. However, the 82 percent was a 9-point rise from the 73 percent the week before.
As crops are coming out of the field and temperatures are dipping, pheasants are moving into the dense cover and out of the wind. Just like earlier in the year, hunters are having to work to find birds.
Schlueter said the hunters he’s spoken with this year said hunting has been a challenge, but the roosters are still out there.
“All in all, I think as hard as people worked they were still coming up with pheasants,” he said. “Certainly, this has been a pretty good turn in temperatures from the 40s and 50s down into the teens and even close to zero. It’s been cold, but the hunters that have been out have been working hard to get into the denser cover where the pheasants tend to hole up when it gets real cold.”
GF&P Conservation Officers Steve Rossow and Michael Kavanagh said as of late, the cold weather has kept most of the hunters out of the field.
Rossow, who’s from Chamberlain and is responsible for Brule County, said the majority of hunters he has seen recently have been commercially paying hunters looking for birds on private ground. Kavanagh, based out of Plankinton and covering Aurora and Jerauld counties, hasn’t seen many hunters at all.
The two said the combination of the weather and the opening of deer season have quieted the pheasant season somewhat.
“There’s just not a lot of hunting pressure right now,” said Kavanagh. “Some of the guys I’ve talked to said they’ve seen a lot of birds, but it’s been tough hunting. I think this late in the year the birds get wary and they’re tougher to hunt. As far as bird numbers in southern Aurora County, there are good areas and (the hunters) are seeing birds. It’s just tougher hunting.”
Still, the hunters he has seen have been like the Georgians in the Saylor group. Hunters are working in smaller groups and some have been walking public land, while the commercial hunters are winding down the season.
Many just don’t want to deal with the cold.
That’s not the case for Saylor and Nipper, though.
“There’s lots of birds up here,” Nipper, 75, said. “We’ve been walking cattails alongside the road, and we haven’t seen anyone else, really.”
Even though the Georgia group didn’t bag a limit Thursday, they were headed out again Friday morning.
Department of Game, Fish and Parks biologist Steve Runia, based out of Huron, said if hunters are looking to see big numbers of pheasants, they need head to thick cover.
“The people who are hunting now are finding big groups of birds,” Runia said. “It’s not unheard of to flush a few hundred birds out of a pretty small area where the cover is really good.“… It’s really a treat to get out there at this time of year to see the big groups of birds, even though you might not harvest a lot. You won’t see this many birds early in the season, and if people really want to see something special, they should get out there now and give it a shot.”