Area lodges: Business remains steady even with fewer pheasantsCHAMBERLAIN — Despite flooding and lower pheasant numbers this year, the hunting visitor industry has remained steady along the central and southern stretches of the Missouri River in South Dakota.
By: Anna Jauhola, The Daily Republic
CHAMBERLAIN — Despite flooding and lower pheasant numbers this year, the hunting visitor industry has remained steady along the central and southern stretches of the Missouri River in South Dakota.
April Reis, the Chamberlain/Oacoma Chamber of Commerce’s executive director, said fewer tourists visited the area this spring and summer due to flooding. However, she said the pheasant population hasn’t really affected the sister towns.
“We have had the same amount of hunters come through,” she said. “They probably had to hunt a little more to get their fill, but otherwise, it’s been good.”
Carey Story, manager at Thunderstik Lodge in rural Chamberlain, said business has been steady the last couple of years.
“Not as good as ’07-’08, of course, before the recession,” he said. “But we’re fortunate in the sense we have a large number of acres with a diverse habitat.”
He said a new trend he’s experienced is hunters moving to public hunting lands west of the Missouri River. Many hunters who would usually have hunted near Mitchell and to the east changed this year to West River, he said.
“They may have hunted near Mitchell the first few days, but the second five days they’re coming farther west to find more birds and looking for new areas,” Story said.
Thunderstik Lodge is on several acres of perfect pheasant habitat for both raised and wild birds, he said. Since the business is commercial, it is required by law to release the same number of birds harvested each year.
“The biggest problem we have as far as rebuilding numbers is we’re also losing CRP acres,” Story said. “They’re all over near here and it’s not going to be easy to rebuild.”
In the last few years, millions of acres of land throughout the United States were released from the Conservation Reserve Program, which provides financial assistance to landowners who agree to turn their marginal agricultural land back to vegetative cover. Because of historically high crop prices, many landowners are placing that land back into production, destroying habitat for many animals, including pheasants.
Currently, 1.17 million acres of land are enrolled in the CRP program in South Dakota, which is equal to more than 600 square miles of grassland habitat, according to the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department.
This year’s pheasant-per-mile index decreased statewide by 46 percent, according to the Game, Fish and Parks. The count is 41 percent lower than the 10-year average.
The state’s 2011 survey of pheasants-per-mile found the Chamberlain area to have 11.51, Winner to have 7.16 and Mitchell to have 2.83 pheasants per mile. All numbers are down from 2010 and the 10-year survey. The statewide survey found 3.55 pheasants per mile, which is down by three from 2010 and about 2.5 from the 10-year average.
The pheasant count has affected many hunting businesses, but some less than others.
Bill Hoffman, owner-operator of American Wingshooting Lodge outside Platte, said his client base remained steady this year.
“We’re having success, but we are definitely having to work harder than last year,” he said.
Hoffman’s business provides guided, all-wild pheasant hunts, and he said the population didn’t get hit as badly in the south-central portion of the state as much as north and east of his location.
“We dodged a bullet there,” he said.
He said all his clients from 2010 returned and he booked a couple of new groups, so his business hasn’t been severely affected.
Lower pheasant numbers haven’t hampered hunting outside Tabor, as the Cogan House Lodge and North Lodge have logged a successful pheasant season so far. Diana McCann, a part owner, said they’ve had a few more hunters this year compared to 2010. Many of those hunters, however, have opted out of guided hunts. Although those hunters are successful, they are not as successful as those on guided hunts, she said.
“There’s been good success, but the hunters have to work for them,” McCann said of the pheasants.
In the last few years, hunters have been able to bag their limits in a few hours, she said. It’s not like that now as hunters typically return from a hunt late in the day and may or may not have their limit.
The economic impact of pheasant hunting in 2010 on The Daily Republic’s 17-county print circulation area totaled $88.4 million, with the most money being spent in Tripp, Lyman, Brule and Davison counties. Resident and non-resident hunters harvested 669,867 pheasants in 2010 in the coverage area.
Statewide, hunters spent $231 million and harvested 1.8 million pheasants last year.