One Outdoor Life Editor Shares ‘Reality Check’ on SD Pheasant Hunting

SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) – Alex Robinson has hunted all over North America.

Big game, waterfowl or birds of the highlands, Robinson has traveled the country for various hunting trips of all kinds. He also wrote for Outdoor Life for 11 years and is now the editor of the longtime hunting and fishing publication. Although Outdoor Life does not produce magazines, its digital content and website remain a go-to source for outdoor enthusiasts.

Based in Minnesota, Robinson says he spends part of his free weekends pheasant hunting in South Dakota. This year, Robinson drove west with his dog, Otis, with the goal of hunting all public land for the traditional South Dakota pheasant opener.

Two weeks ago, he shared his experience in an opinion piece for Outdoor Life titled “A reality check on the hunt in South Dakota” with a caption that read, “The pheasant hunt in the US capital has changed, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

In almost 2,000 words, Robinson summed up the demographic changes South Dakota has seen with the number of pheasants and pheasant hunters as well as its Saturday walking fields before reaching its daily limit of three roosters just before sunset.

“I wrote it because I really enjoy pheasant hunting in South Dakota,” Robinson told KELOLAND News. “There’s also a bit of a shift in the highland bird hunting culture that is happening in parallel with some of the things happening in South Dakota. There has been a lot of great local reporting from South Dakota that covers these topics as well. A lot of these stories sort of match what I’ve noticed and what others have noticed over the years.

These topics include the decline in the number of non-resident pheasant hunters, the decrease in the number of wild pheasants harvested, a shifting trend for out-of-state hunters to turn to pheasant huts on private land. , weather impacts and habitat changes.

Hunting specifically for the pheasant opening, traditionally on the third Saturday in October, Robinson said he was surprised not to see as many “orange armies” as he thought he saw.

“I was able to find places where others weren’t hunting,” said Robinson. “It was a pleasant surprise. From a state perspective, I imagine you all want to see the big numbers and see a lot of people coming into the state for the pheasant opening.

He said the annual marching band and celebration that accompanies the start of the pheasant hunting season in South Dakota is a good social event and called it “good for hunting in America in general.”

Robinson cited the aging baby boomer generation as one of the reasons why fewer hunters are buying licenses from non-residents. In 2020, South Dakota hosted the fewest non-resident pheasant hunters since 1998. The 62,289 non-resident licenses were down from the third highest in 2010 of 100,189 non-resident licenses.

Robinson also cited the decline in pheasant populations for the declining trend in out-of-state hunters and increased interest in private hunting lodges.

“You go there a few years and still love pheasant hunting and still love being in South Dakota, but you don’t raise birds – these outfitters will look a lot better,” Robinson said. “It’s walking the fine line of having enough available habitats and public land so that everyone can have their own little corner, but also having enough hunters on the ground to make it a cultural and social event. ”

This fine line from South Dakota may have already perfected in 2007 when over 2 million pheasants were harvested and a total of 180,836 licenses were sold. Now in the second decade of that climax, Robinson said his published story has attracted a lot of comment.

“People have real strong opinions and they also have strong experiences,” said Robinson. “Everyone comes from a different background. ”

Robinson said all talk usually comes down to habitat. He said quality native grasslands, blanket and food are always at the forefront of any discussion of pheasant numbers.

“The controversial part is how to access this habitat,” said Robinson. “Who’s going to pay for it? What’s the value? Where’s the funding? What you can’t dispute is that if you want to have birds, you need a lot of quality habitat.

The future of South Dakota pheasant hunting

Among the factors impacting pheasants and pheasant hunters, Robinson said a more extreme climate impact should be taken for granted. With more severe climate impacts likely, Robinson said this should give extra weight to adding more natural habitats.

“Smart biologists, people like Pheasants Forever and a lot of people who manage pheasants in the state would say the key to having higher bird numbers and better bird numbers in the long run really comes down to l ‘habitat,’ said Robinson.

He said he believed there was an increase in the number of young highland bird hunters seeking the challenge of fewer birds, working a dog, eating game or enjoying good public hunting grounds. He noted that many states offer a variety of private pheasant farm experiences, but stressed that South Dakota should protect the wild bird hunting resource in wild areas.

“For me personally, when I come to South Dakota, I’m interested in hunting for the best habitat possible,” said Robinson. “Our access to public lands is not as extensive as what is available in South Dakota. The walk-in program that you all have is amazing and that’s why I’m going.

Count pheasants

The South Dakota Department of Hunting, Fishing and Parks has shifted from annual brood counts to marketing campaigns led by the Department of Tourism. Robinson wondered if the pheasant brood count would return after the 2019 report ended.

“I think the more data you can provide to the media and the public about what’s going on with the numbers of birds and their habitat, the better,” said Robinson. “If it’s possible that there is a count, I would love to see a count. “

Robinson said he plans to continue finding time for hunting trips in South Dakota regardless of the number of birds. But he also understands that for people who choose to travel great distances to hunt in South Dakota or elsewhere, the results of a population estimate could influence that decision.

“I know some people really watch this account and if it doesn’t look good they don’t go,” Robinson said. “More and more they are turning to more private and managed farms that can guarantee a certain number of birds.

Robinson said that whether we like it or not, wildlife is managed using data on harvest counts and population counts. And despite the discussion about numbers of pheasants, he said everyone understands that hunting is about more than numbers.

“I love pheasant hunting because I can run with my dog,” said Robinson. “You end up in a place where there aren’t a lot of birds and you kill a couple of them, you feel really good with those. It is an accomplishment.

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