Has Wet Spring Harmed South Dakota Pheasants?

The record-breaking moisture that soaked the Midwest through the spring and summer may have been a boon to nesting waterfowl, but heavy precipitation can be a serious detriment to pheasant populations. Therefore, many hunters aren't just asking whether South Dakota's annual pheasant brood survey count will reveal a drop in numbers, but by how much.

The results of the survey won't be revealed until later this month, but Pheasants Forever (PF) predicts only a mild overall population decrease, and in many areas the numbers should indicate stable or even increasing bird numbers. The reason? Sufficient habitat to negate the weather's effects.

Reports PF:

Eastern South Dakota

“Parts of the state, particularly along the I-29 corridor, have lost good grass cover, and a lot of what remains are CRP acres that are of the wetland variety,” said Matt Morlock, Farm Bill Biologist with Pheasants Forever in east-central South Dakota. “On wet years like this, there’s not a lot of nesting habitat available around those wetland basins, so the larger the buffer of grass a landowner can leave around that area, the better.”

Central South Dakota

“When we’re in a drought cycle, especially in the central part of the state, there is a lot of pasture ground that isn’t of much value for nesting pheasants,” said Runia. “But with all of our moisture this year, those acres of grass look phenomenal and are going to provide excellent nesting cover.”

Northeast South Dakota

Conditions in this part of the state appear to be mimicking last year. Runia says that last summer Brown County was circled as an area that would likely see a big drop in pheasant numbers because of a brutal winter and wet spring. Instead, the county’s pheasant numbers held steady with strong nesting success in areas of good grass – habitat bolstered because of ample moisture.

PF will soon release its annual hunting forecast. Sign up here to receive it via email.

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