HURON -- With the economic impact pheasant hunting has on the state, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks officials are working to reverse the downward trend in pheasant hunting participation.

Officials with the GF&P and state’s Department of Tourism held a panel discussion Friday afternoon in Huron at the State Fair to highlight the ongoing efforts that both entities have been making to increase pheasant hunting participation.

Over the past decade, South Dakota has experienced a significant drop in non-resident pheasant hunters. Since 2010, license sales for non-resident pheasant hunters declined from roughly 100,000 to 63,000, a decrease of approximately 37,000, according to Emily Kiel, senior staff adviser with the GF&P. South Dakota resident pheasant hunters have also been dwindling over the past decade, as Kiel noted the state has experienced a decline of roughly 23,000 hunters, dropping from about 70,000 resident hunters in 2010 to 47,000.

“With the 'Hunt the Greatest' marketing campaign, we’re focused on three primary audiences: the traditionalist group, adventure hunters and lapsed to youth,” Kiel said.

The traditionalist group consists of avid hunting enthusiasts usually older in age, while the lapsed youth ages range from 18 to 35, Kiel said. The marketing campaign has been heavily focusing on encouraging more hunters who fall under the lapsed youth category, according to Kiel.

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“We really want to recruit that group back into the field, and get them out there with their friends and family. If some of them in that group have already started their own family, we want to help shape that next generation and build that culture,” Kiel said.

Kiel estimates the campaign has resulted in increasing 4,100 pheasant hunting license sales. In addition, Kiel said the state is up in small game license sales by 11% compared to the same time frame in 2019, crediting the increase back to the marketing campaign.

Another notable change GF&P is implementing for this year’s pheasant hunting season to help increase hunting participation includes extending the traditional season by roughly three weeks to conclude on Jan. 31, 2021. In addition, on the Oct. 17 opening day, pheasant hunters will now have the opportunity to begin their hunt at 10 a.m. Resident only season will also begin at 10 a.m. Lastly, the youth pheasant hunting season will be extended to allow for nine consecutive days of hunting.

Tom Kirschenmann, deputy director of the GF&P Division of Wildlife, said the season timeline changes that the GF&P Commission recently approved were made to provide pheasant hunters with more opportunities for hunters to walk the fields.

“We’re looking forward to those new opportunities, but we look forward to what that will bring to many resident and non-resident pheasant hunting opportunities,” Kirschenmann said.

Kirk Hulstein, industry outreach director with the state’s Department of Tourism, emphasized the impact pheasant hunting has on the state’s economy, noting each visitor who comes to the state for pheasant hunting spends approximately $3,000. Hulstein said 4,100 jobs in the state are supported by pheasant hunters each year.

“Pheasant hunters are considered a very high value visitor, and they have a significant impact on the state and local economies,” Hulstein said.

With the financial hardships that many rural South Dakota communities are facing due to the pandemic, Hulstein said this year’s pheasant hunting will be more vital for those small towns’ local economies.

“It actually goes to the areas that need it most like those small town communities that are struggling to survive right now such as your Main Street cafes and downtown hardware stores that sell ammo, guns and vests,” Hulstein said. “We really need (pheasant hunting) in the state, and that’s why Gov. Noem provided the initiative and passed down her directive for us to work on getting more pheasant hunters in the state.”

Habitat conservation

For South Dakota to maintain its renowned status as one of the best pheasant hunting areas in the world, Kirschenmann stressed the importance of habitat conservation.

“To have some of the greatest pheasant hunting opportunities in the country, certainly habitat is one of the key components to pheasant hunting itself. We need habitat that can provide that nesting and reproductive potential, along with winter survival,” Kirschenmann said.

Kirschenmann pointed out a majority of habitat conservationists in the state are avid hunters, which he said provides a major benefit for wildlife habitat efforts.

According to Kirschenmann, 80% of hunting land in the state is privately owned, while the remaining 20% is public land. Kirschenmann said the GF&P works with 1,400 landowners to enroll roughly 2 million acres in hunting grounds.

“We’re very fortunate in South Dakota as we have a lot of conscientious landowners who are conservationists and do habitat on their own because of their love of the land,” Kirschenmann said.