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SD pheasant harvest declines

WINNER -- State biologists said Friday that an estimated 1.4 million pheasants were bagged by hunters in South Dakota during the 2012 season.

"Obviously, 1.4 million was a bit of a disappointment, but it was still a good hunting season," Tony Leif told members of the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission.

Leif is director of the GF&P's Wildlife Division.

That was less than the 1.56 million harvested in 2011 and the 1.8 million taken in 2010.

Hot, dry weather seemed to have played a role. Leif said there was natural mortality of adult pheasants in the summer and early fall months like he's never seen before.

Commissioners have heard complaints for months that hunters often didn't find birds in the numbers they felt they were led to expect.

The Wildlife Division each fall releases its roadside survey results of August brood counts. The 2012 results suggested pheasant numbers would be up 18 percent from 2011, with variations by region.

Travis Runia, the senior pheasant biologist, said the ratio of the estimated population and the harvest generally fit the 20-year trend.

"We weren't far off. Our harvest dipped a little bit," Runia said.

He said drought in the central counties hurt results, while the 2011 harvest spiked well above the trend.

Commissioner Cathy Peterson, of Salem, said that at her family's farm the heat was excessive and the moisture was lacking last summer and fall.

"That had to affect the pheasants differently than we'd seen in other years," she said.

The 1.4 million in 2012 was below the 10-year average harvest of 1.8 million and the 20-year average of 1.53 million.

Commissioner Barry Jensen, of White River, asked who was responsible for putting out information about South Dakota having high pheasant numbers last season.

"By and large every year the statewide number is the flagship," Leif said. "They try to apply that locally rather than looking at those localized numbers."

His point was on the mark. The brood route surveys showed that statewide the numbers were up 18 percent from 2011 but were down 31 percent from the 10-year average.

Nearly all of the traditional good spots were in worse shape, according to the brood surveys.

Chamberlain was off its 10-year average by 31 percent, Aberdeen by 41 percent, Huron 49 percent, Mitchell 36 percent, Brookings 56 percent and Watertown 47 percent.

Those numbers meant there were only half as many new birds in most of the places - and that was before predators and weather took their tolls in September and early October.

The only region that the brood surveys indicated was in better shape than the 10-year average was Pierre, up 8 percent. Mobridge was up 1 percent and Winner was down 2 percent.

The 1.4 million pheasants bagged in 2012 continued a long streak. The last time the harvest was below 1.4 million was 2002. From 1965 through 1998, the harvest reached 1.4 million only once. The recent high was 2.1 million in 2007.