Pheasant hunting conditions in the Mitchell region should be pretty decent this year.

While we don’t have scientific research that proves that, recent observation while driving country roads gives us optimism.

The fact-based information that is available, though, shows it’s a down year.

Last week, the state Game, Fish and Parks Department issued its annual pheasant count report, which was hidden in a public-relations-filled press release focused on Gov. Kristi Noem’s Second Century Habitat Initiative.

The report showed the state’s pheasant population declined 17 percent from 2018. Due to a rough winter and a wet spring, pheasant numbers have dropped to their third-lowest total in the past three decades, according to the report.

But those numbers were essentially invisible in GF&P’s pheasant news. GF&P even said, “In a statewide snapshot, numbers are on par with the previous two years,” and reminded people that “South Dakota offers the greatest opportunity in the country for pheasant hunting.”

To give further insight, GF&P in recent years has informed the public of its pheasant brood count report in late August by focusing directly on the numbers.

When the report was issued by Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s staff, it didn’t matter the findings. Whether pheasant numbers were up or down, the report was honest and straightforward.

That even includes a dismal 2011 report that showed a 45 percent decline in birds, and again in 2013 when the pheasant-per-mile index hit 1.5, a mark not seen since 1978.

Quite simply, the percent change in pheasant population from one year to the next was clear and obvious. It’s really the only fact people want to know.

It’s clear the approach this year by GF&P was much different. The report was released later than usual, and officials were hoping to hide the downtick in pheasants by touting Noem’s Second Century Initiative.

This year’s pheasant-per-mile index hovers around two birds statewide. The Chamberlain, Pierre and Mitchell regions show the best options for success, according to the report.

At least locally, we’re seeing a lot of young birds out and about lately. Again, there’s no science behind that statement. Some areas may have just reproduced birds much better than others.

But perhaps the cold, wet spring caused a late hatch and the pheasant count survey conducted in late July and early August didn’t find as many birds as there actually are. South Dakota fields are so wet and flooded, it’s likely there is a lot more cover available this year due to the inability for farmers to cut hay, mow road ditches and spray weed fields.

And to be fair, we’re pleased GF&P and Noem are focusing on habitat and ways to get the next generation of hunters in the field. The outdoor tradition in South Dakota needs to remain strong.

When wet, cold years come around, it is positive to see bird numbers avoid a cliff-dive. Having good habitat in our state is what we need to keep wildlife abundant.

Come late-October, we’ll see a better representation of pheasant numbers in South Dakota when folks start hitting the fields.

Regarding the pheasant population, let’s hope for the best. And from GF&P, let’s hope for more straightforward reporting.