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Better pheasant hunting on opener

Bill Hansen, of Petoskey, Mich., draws on a bird that popped up after being sniffed out by his dog Daisy while hunting on the Chip Allen Game Production Area in Southwest Miner County on the first day of pheasant hunting season on Saturday. (Matt Gade / Republic)

As Saturday marked the 100th pheasant season opener in South Dakota, hunters noticed an uptick in pheasants numbers in the Mitchell area, averaging 1 to 2 birds per hunter, compared to less than one last season.

"Pheasant hunting, and the traditions, fellowship and opportunities that come with it are vitally important to who we are in this state," said South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Secretary Kelly Hepler in a press release. "South Dakota pheasant openers are special and our residents and visitors realize that. It is a time to create new lasting memories and enjoy one of our state's greatest traditions."

Bill Hansen, who drove nearly 14 hours from Petoskey, Michigan, to camp out in the Mitchell area, said pheasant opener is more about having a good time than the actual number of birds he and his friends get.

"Birds were terrible last year," Hansen said. "We just enjoy coming out and having a great time."

Steve Rossow is a GF&P regional conservation officer supervisor who is based in Chamberlain. He said a lot of hunters reported a slower weekend due to the high number of crops still in the field. He added there was not a hunting accident reported statewide on the first weekend.

"I think when the crops come out, I think the pheasant hunting should be good," Rossow said. "I think it's just getting some of this corn out of the ground."

The National Agricultural Statistics Service's most recent report shows 17 percent of the state's corn has been hargest, but is just behind average.

In the southeast region of the state, Sanborn, Aurora, Davison and Miner counties were the most-hunted areas with a large number of pheasants coming from cornfields, according to South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks.

"Rooster-wise I don't think we saw but three to five all of last year," said Dave Hoffman, of Petoskey, who hunted the Chip Allen Game Production Area in southwest Miner County. "In the last hour we saw at least four. We've definitely seen more birds this year."

"Seen lots of them anyway," Adam Richie joked, who managed to only bag one bird while hunting with Hansen and Hoffman.

Saturday also marked the 30th year of South Dakota's Walk-In Areas hunting access program, according to Hepler. Over 1 million acres of existing publicly owned and privately leased land have been opened up for public hunting in South Dakota's primary pheasant range.

Pheasant season began Saturday and runs through Jan. 6.