Annual Pheasant Brood Survey Underway in South Dakota

    How pheasants fared after enduring a long winter and wet spring remains to be seen.

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    Pheasants like this young rooster, which was in an open pasture feeding on bugs, are the target of South Dakota's annual pheasant brood survey. During the survey, hens, roosters and chicks are counted along the same 110 routes across the state each year to compile the estimated pheasant population heading into the fall hunting season. Photo by Andrew Johnson
    Pheasants like this young rooster, which was in an open pasture feeding on bugs, are the target of South Dakota’s annual pheasant brood survey. During the survey, hens, roosters and chicks are counted along the same 110 routes across the state each year to compile the estimated pheasant population heading into the fall hunting season.
    Photo by Andrew Johnson

    — By Andrew Johnson, Editor, Outdoor Forum

    GFP has been conducting the survey, which provides a snapshot of the huntable pheasant population prior to the actual hunting season, since 1949. The survey relies heavily on two distinct numbers: pheasants per mile (PPM) and average brood size.

    The numbers are taken from 110 routes across the state each year. Historically, each 30-mile route is driven twice between July 25 and Aug. 15, and the survey that produces higher count totals of the two is the one used by state wildlife biologists to compile the final report.

    The yearly pheasant-brood survey conducted by the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department is underway, and hunters and wildlife officials are anxious to see how a long, hard winter and the abnormally wet spring and summer have affected the state’s pheasant population.

    During the open window to run surveys, biologists and conservation officers carefully watch the weather and strive to find mornings with the promise of heavy dew, little cloud cover and little to no wind. Why? Plenty of heavy dew forces pheasants out of the wet cover and into the sun to dry their feathers, making them more visible from the road. The routes start at sunrise when pheasants are the most active, regardless of any weather condition.

    Routes are traditionally run from east to west, allowing the conservation officers and biologists to keep the rising sun at their backs. Roosters, hens and broods, including the number of birds in the brood, are all marked down in separate categories.

    Additionally, the strength of the survey isn’t relegated to pheasant numbers alone. Each of the 110 routes remains exactly the same from year to year, which means more than just pure pheasant numbers are taken into consideration. Crops, mowed ditches vs. nonmowed ditches, nesting cover, flooding, wetland health, CRP acres converted to production and more all change from year to year, and all of those trends are observed and recorded by the survey, as well. That information is just as important to remember as the PPM index, as it helps paint the bigger picture of what’s going on with South Dakota’s pheasant population.

    Still, it’s the bottom-line number of the population index that resident and nonresident hunters look forward to the most each year, and the anticipation for this year’s brood-survey results is once again high thanks to Mother Nature, as it’s yet to be seen what impact the snow and floods have had on the pheasant population.

    Last year’s survey indicated the statewide PPM index was 4.2, which was 47 percent higher than 2017. However, of more importance is the fact that the statewide PPM was still 41 percent below the state’s 10-year average.

    This year’s survey numbers and summary will be released around Labor Day, and if the results are anything close to those from 2018, there will be cause for celebration.

    South Dakota’s traditional statewide pheasant hunting season will open Oct. 19.