LETCHER -- As a group of local hunters trudged through a cornfield Saturday afternoon, scaring up a handful of pheasants, Kade Haley shot his first rooster of the year.
A Mitchell native currently residing in Pierre, Haley is an avid pheasant hunter who makes an annual trip to his hometown area for every season opener. He’s far from the only hunter in his family, as his dad Mike Haley was one of the hunters in the group on Saturday.
“Coming back here to pheasant hunt with friends and family is a tradition, and I love the comradery we have when we get out here,” said Kade Haley, after thanking his dog for retrieving a pheasant he shot. “It’s all about having fun.”
The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks reported the opening day yielded between a 1/2 to 1 bird per hunter on Saturday, depending on the location. In the central part of the state, 1/2 to 3/4 birds per hunter were reported, with success coming from food plots and on the edges of standing crop fields, and the most hunters were seen in Lyman County. In the southeast part of the state, GF&P reported high numbers of hunters in Aurora, Miner, Sanborn and southern Beadle counties. Again, 1/2 to 3/4 birds per hunter were reported in those areas, too.
Prior to the season, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks pheasant brood survey showed a 17 percent decrease in pheasants per mile this year. But Haley's group said they saw no shortage of roosters in the first two hours of their Saturday hunt.
“You can’t truly know how the pheasant numbers are until you walk the fields, in my opinion,” Kade said.
With how much precipitation the Mitchell area experienced this year, Mike said he wasn’t surprised by how tight the birds were nested.
Andrew Winthers, a local hunting enthusiast, knew going into the season that the wet year was going to make for some challenges walking through fields. For many years, Winthers has been hunting Mike Haley’s private land with the same group he was with Saturday.
“A lot of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands around the area are low lying, and most of them were flooded out, so the nesting areas were really limited this year,” said Winthers, after he shot down his second pheasant of the day. “If there was ever a perfect year to get more trappers, it would be this year.”
Considering the wet fields and CRP lands causing a lack of nesting areas available for pheasants, Winthers said the birds were more vulnerable to getting attacked by predators.
But the bounty program Gov. Kristi Noem enacted earlier this year in January -- which paid trappers $10 for the tail of every mammal defined as a pheasant nest predator, including raccoons, striped skunks, possums, badgers, and red foxes -- was intended to eliminate those nest predators. Winthers said the spike in trappers that the bounty program generated will be extremely vital for this year’s pheasant hunting season. The GF&P reported more than 54,000 tails turned in by the end of this year’s bounty program, which spanned from early January to mid-August.
“The number of guys that went out trapping this year was at an all-time high, and it will be so beneficial for the number of pheasants for this year and years to come,” Winthers said. “I know there were some people in the state who thought it wasn’t a wise way for the governor to spend money, but it will be a huge benefit.
“It’s obviously early into the season, but I feel pretty good about pheasants this season,” he added. “Regardless, it’s always a great time to be hunting with friends and family.”