When 10 percent of the nation’s pheasant hunters converge upon your state autumnally, hunter safety is a valid concern. It starts with hunters abiding by the rules, so I asked my buddy Clay Eberhart, who’s a Wildlife Conservation Officer with South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (GFP), what the most common pheasant hunting violations he sees are:
1. Vehicle road hunting violations. This occurs when people see that elusive young-of-the-year rooster and conduct the good ‘ol “J-Slide” by locking up the brakes on the gravel, and getting out to chase their quarry all the while leaving their vehicle smack dab in the middle of the road (sometimes in a crooked manner) with the doors wide open. The law does state people need to pull their vehicles to the side of the road as far as possible. I always tell people to pull as far to the right as possible, shut their doors, and shut the engine off. No pheasant is worth a traffic accident that could injure/kill/damage you or your hunting partners – dogs included. This is by far the most common violation we see. Statute 41-9-1.5. Motorized vehicles not to be used in hunting from highways–Restrictions.
2. Protrusion of firearms from motor vehicles. Most often, these people have their guns loaded with the barrel sticking out the window. This is a case where these folks feel they can’t waste a moment in getting to their quarry in the ditch. What most folks fail to realize is that we had a fatality last year – someone getting into a vehicle with a loaded firearm when that firearm discharged and killed the man’s wife from 3 feet away – from road hunting pheasants. I also investigated a similar incident in which the man was shot in the lower back from the backseat of a Chevy Suburban, in which the man was lucky to survive. A ’cased and unloaded gun’ law would help solve a lot of these issues, but that’s my humble opinion. 41:06:04:07. Protrusion of firearms from motor vehicles prohibited.
3. Hunting Too Close to Home, Church or School. Put simply, this is when people are road hunting, see a pheasant, jump out and shoot at the bird, all the while being within 660 feet of a house, church, school, or livestock. We get many calls each year, and have to deal with this violation frequently. This law again goes back to safety, in which people should not be shooting close to houses. It is often that houses are built in tree groves in South Dakota, and sometimes these houses cannot be seen. The GFP has made an effort to make “660′ Safety Zone” signs available that can be put up by a GFP staff member at a landowner’s request, or picked up from any regional office. 41-9-1.1. Certain highways and public rights-of-way excepted from restrictions
4. Shooting After Shooting Hours. What most folks fail to realize is that our vision as humans is terrible during crepuscular (dim lit) periods of the day, and that our sense of colors and depth perception is drastically reduced. Not only does this account for the occasional hen being shot after sundown, but it also can be a factor in hunting accidents, where the victim was not seen by the shooter. Anyone knows that once the sun goes down, blaze orange does not ‘pop’ against a backdrop of other colors. It is a simple rule that some people “forget” to follow. And no, I don’t fall for the “My watch must be 10 minutes off…” excuse J. 41:06:08:01.Pheasant hunting season established — Open units and dates.
5. Shooting Pheasants Out of Window of Vehicle. These “hunters” seemingly can’t wait to get out of the vehicle to kill their quarry. This is an obvious infraction, and does not allow a fair playing field to the rest of the hunting public, the adjacent landowners, the pheasant itself, or the public people of the great state of South Dakota and its visitors. I cannot imagine hunting this way, but we see it every year. 41-8-37. Hunting from motor vehicle prohibited
Other common violations include:
- Failure to use non-toxic shot on certain public areas
- Failure to exhibit hunting license (i.e. forgetting license at home, not being able to show a Wildlife Conservation Officer your license)
- Littering (most often cleaning birds in parking lots of public areas or road ditches)
- Transportation/plumage violations (not having a fully feathered head/wing/foot attached to bird).
“Most of these violations occur while ‘road hunting,’” Eberhart says. In South Dakota, hunting certain public right of ways is legal. “Road hunting is a tradition out here, and it can be very successful. However, people must follow these rules in order to keep road hunting alive; it has been on the chopping block during legislative sessions in the past.”
The pusher and blocker pheasant hunting technique is also fairly common in South Dakota (hunters pushing pheasants to other hunters blocking or posting at the end of a field), and Eberhart says his department investigates many hunting accidents every year because “a blocker was not seen by the pushers, and ends up getting a chest full of #5 lead.” “I investigated an accident last year where a man was shot from 25 yards and they pulled 46 pellets out of his chest, neck and cheek,” he says, “I always tell folks, wear lots of blaze orange, and never shoot at a pheasant unless there is plenty of ‘sky’ underneath it.”