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Game biologist says pheasants available for season's finale

SIOUX FALLS (AP) -- South Dakota's top pheasant biologist says hunters should still find plenty of roosters in fields this weekend as the state wraps up its 2015 pheasant hunting season.

SIOUX FALLS (AP) - South Dakota's top pheasant biologist says hunters should still find plenty of roosters in fields this weekend as the state wraps up its 2015 pheasant hunting season.

Travis Runia, upland game biologist with the Game, Fish and Parks Department, said officials won't have harvest numbers until April or May, but hunters have been reporting better luck this year and GF&P expects the harvest to surpass last year's.

South Dakota's pheasant season, which opened Oct. 17, comes to a close on Sunday.

"This last weekend can be really good hunting, with the birds kind of grouped up in the heavier cover such as cattails," Runia said. "And the weather doesn't look too bad for hunting."

Brood counts in 2015 estimated a 42 percent jump in the number of birds for the season. The pheasants-per-mile index came in at 3.8, up from 2.68 in 2014 and 1.52 in 2013. This 2015 index is similar to 2011, when hunters bagged 1.56 million birds.

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Although the eastern Sioux Falls area has been bombarded with snow in recent weeks, the state's prime pheasant country from Aberdeen through Huron down to Mitchell is having a somewhat typical winter, Runia said. Mild winters with minimal snow cover help pheasants find nesting ground to reproduce.

"We typically see the winter survival of pheasants higher when the ground's brown versus when the ground is white," Runia said.

After dealing with severe drought through much of 2013, South Dakota appears to be in good shape for moisture heading into 2016. The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook from the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center shows no areas of concern in the state through March 31. The latest U.S. Drought Monitor shows just a handful of areas in South Dakota listed for "abnormally dry" conditions.

"Being that we're not in a drought, we'd expect a little bit taller residual grass going into spring, which would be favorable for pheasants," Runia said.

Pheasant numbers tend to fluctuate year to year based on weather, but adequate habitat is also important.

National conservation group Pheasants Forever in 2014 opened a regional headquarters office in the South Dakota city of Brookings to address substantial habitat losses and land use changes over the years that have resulted in a dramatic decline in pheasant numbers.

Related Topics: HUNTING
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