What were the pheasant hunting prospects in South Dakota 25 years ago this month?

With the state’s pheasant opener a little more than a week out (Oct. 21) and on the heels of dire reports about ringneck numbers, a snapshot of hunts past is worthwhile.

Reports in the Star Tribune on Oct. 10, 1992, from the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks were predicting “another excellent year” owing to brood surveys in late summer. “There is plenty of cover, and last winter was relatively mild, allowing a good carryover of pheasants,” according to the Star Tribune.

According to wildlife division director Doug Hansen:  “We estimated that we had about 5.5 million pheasants last year, more than any other year since 1963. Numbers from this year’s brood route surveys suggest 10- to 15-percent lower population, putting the figure at about 5 million birds. That is still the second-best population total in almost 30 years.”

In a brood report from counts this summer, ringneck numbers statewide plunged 45 percent, with average brood sizes the lowest they’ve been since at least 1949. Ice storms and record snowfall over the winter followed by extreme drought harshly limited the food supply for the game birds and damaged their nesting grounds.

Historically, Minnesota has accounted for nearly 25 percent of hunters from out of state who buy a pheasant license in South Dakota.

Minnesota has its own well-reported pheasant ills. The roadside survey count released in September showed the bird population has fallen 26 percent in the last year, mainly due to a loss of habitat as farmers keep more land for production.

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