Analysis: Pheasant decline is real, but birds still plentifulPIERRE — The harsh winter took a horrible toll on South Dakota’s pheasants. The economic question that will be answered this fall is whether hunters will visit in smaller numbers from other states after hearing news of what’s shaping up as a loss of 4.5 million birds.
By: Bob Mercer, The Daily Republic
PIERRE — The harsh winter took a horrible toll on South Dakota’s pheasants. The economic question that will be answered this fall is whether hunters will visit in smaller numbers from other states after hearing news of what’s shaping up as a loss of 4.5 million birds.
The state Game, Fish and Parks Department released its annual estimate of pheasant population Thursday. Based on biologists’ roadside sightings of roosters, hens and broods of chicks, the count suggests that pheasant numbers are down 46 percent statewide from a year ago.
The only regions spared from significant losses were Winner, which has been a traditional hotbed for great pheasant hunting, and western South Dakota, where pheasants typically are scattered and their numbers are sparse.
Rocked hardest by the tough winter was a band of counties at the state’s eastern edge, from Sisseton to Watertown and Brookings and down through Sioux Falls and Yankton. The Aberdeen, Huron and Mitchell areas took bad hits too.
GFP didn’t put an actual number on the population this year in its announcement. Last year, GFP estimated the population at 9.8 million birds. A 46 percent drop would place this year’s population at approximately 5.3 million.
Even at 5.3 million the 2011 season should be good. It is the smallest population since the estimated 5.5 million of 2002. On the other hand, from 1965 through 1993 the population got as high as 5 million just once.
For South Dakota hunters the perspective on the coming season will depend on their age. Older hunters will remember the many years when there were fewer birds.
Young hunters however will know nothing other than the great times of the past eight seasons, when there were never fewer than 8 million-plus birds and, in 2007, as many as 11.8 million.
Hunters reported killing an estimated 1.2 million pheasants in 2010.
It’s worthwhile to keep in mind the roadside count is an estimate based on small numbers of birds actually seen.
The roosters fell 18 percent, from 2,045 to 1,685. Hens dropped 36 percent, from 3,037 to 1,933. The broods were fewer too, down 48 percent, from 2,581 to 1,353. And the number of chicks in the broods was slightly smaller, from an average of 6.25 chicks to 5.8.
From those sightings the GFP wildlife staff extrapolates a statewide population. An area that is down significantly might still have many more birds than another area that had less loss but fewer birds to start.
Here’s a snapshot of the routes in each region, the birds per mile and the change from a year ago.
Chamberlain: 10 routes, 11.51 birds per mile, 32 percent decrease. Winner: 8 routes, 7.16 birds per mile, 15 percent decrease. Pierre: 12 routes, 9.15 birds per mile, 34 percent decrease. Mobridge: 8 routes, 5.73 birds per mile, 47 percent decrease. Aberdeen: 14 routes, 2.56 birds per mile, 61 percent decrease. Huron: 16 routes, 3 birds per mile, 56 percent decrease. Mitchell: 15 routes, 2.83 birds per mile, 52 percent decrease. Yankton: 10 routes, 0.63 birds per mile, 57 percent decrease. Sioux Falls: 13 routes, 0.79 birds per mile, 46 percent decrease. Brookings: 11 routes, 1.13 birds per mile, 50 percent decrease. Watertown: 12 routes, 1.68 birds per mile, 44 percent decrease. Sisseton: 4 routes, 0.58 birds per mile, 75 percent decrease. Statewide: 107 routes, 3.55 birds per mile, 46 percent decrease.