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As feared, early pheasant reports are down

A pen-raised pheasant is pictured Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, at the Rosewood Barn private hunting lodge near Mount Vernon. The pheasant is fitted with a yellow anti-pecking device, as part of state requirements for birds released on private game preserves. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)

Pheasant numbers indeed seem to be down.

That’s what South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department conservation officers said in interviews with The Daily Republic following the three-day, resident-only pheasant season that concluded Monday.

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South Dakota residents got their first crack at roosters this season over the weekend on public lands, and conservation officers who were in the field reported seeing fewer birds and hunters than in recent years.

“It was pretty slow — one of the slower resident openers I’ve seen,” Chamberlain-based conservation officer Mark Ohm said. “I didn’t see many hunters out and everyone was struggling a little to find birds.”

According to a report the GF&P released in August, the number of pheasants spotted during an annual statewide survey dropped 64 percent this year compared to last year. The GF&P estimated the state to have about 7.6 million pheasants last year. With the estimated 64 percent drop, that means the pheasant population could be down by nearly 5 million birds to 2.736 million.

Chamberlain, usually a highly hunted area, was still the top area during the spring survey with 2.66 pheasants per mile spotted. That was down from last year’s survey of 10.81 pheasants per mile.

Diana Schroeder, another conservation officer in the Chamberlain area, said a few hunters reported seeing pheasants, but none she checked harvested any. Schroeder issued one ticket for a hunter having toxic shot while hunting public land. To hunt public land, hunters must possess nontoxic shot such as steel.

Matt Talbert, a conservation officer in McCook County, said poor weather on Saturday and Monday may have played a role in fewer hunters harvesting fewer birds. Saturday in Mitchell was breezy with peak wind gusts of 37 mph, according to the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls. The NWS said Mitchell received 2.76 inches of rain Monday. Talbert said Sunday was a perfect day for hunting with cooler temperatures to keep the dogs working the fields from overheating.

“The guys that still put in the effort and did the walking found birds,” Talbert said. “It was more of a hunt and not a shoot is what they told me.”

Andy Petersen, a conservation officer based in Mitchell, said most of the groups he talked to saw pheasants. Petersen said it seemed to be a typical resident opener, and he did not issue any tickets over the three days.

“I did see a few birds flying around, so that was encouraging,” Petersen said.

The statewide pheasant season opens at noon Saturday. The daily limit is three rooster pheasants per hunter, with a possession limit of 15 roosters. The season continues until Jan. 5.