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As pheasant survey begins, officials hopeful for rebound year

A pheasant is shown in a field in this file photo. (Republic file photo)

The search for South Dakota's pheasant population began this week.

State officials got this year's annual pheasant brood survey routes started Wednesday, which continues for three weeks into mid-August.

And, the state's top upland game biologist said the heavy amounts of rain that much of eastern South Dakota received this year spring will play a large role in the pheasant population.

"Some of these counties saw double the amount of their normal precip, and that's usually not a good thing," said Travis Runia, upland game biologist for South Dakota's Department of Game, Fish & Parks.

"June is the peak hatch period for pheasant chicks and getting excessive rainfall on those birds reduces their survival," he explained.

There are 13 regions in South Dakota for the survey. The routes span 30 miles, and 70 GF&P observers collect the route's data and send them to Runia to assemble for a report.

Last year's report was less-than-welcoming with a 45 percent drop from 2016. Significant drought played a role in 2017, as more than 90 percent of the state was listed on the U.S. Drought Monitor in mid-July. Hunters harvested an estimated 828,709 pheasants last year — the lowest season total since 1989.

While drought isn't much of an issue in South Dakota this year, flooding in many areas may be the biggest influence on this year's pheasant population. Still, Runia said it's important to remember the state doesn't like to make predictions at this time in the year, and the results of the annual survey will be released around Labor Day.

"I'm not going to stick my neck out too far," Runia said. "We'll have some better data in a few weeks."

The acting director for South Dakota's regional office of Pheasants Forever is hopeful for good news. Matt Morlock earlier this week said he's seen good numbers of pheasant broods while traveling the state recently.

"Overall, I think it's going to be positive," he said. "I've spoken to quite a few folks who've said they've seen more chicks this year than they have in the past few years."