Pheasants walking and flying over gravel road.

2012 South Dakota Pheasant Hunting Report

Going into the season, I knew it wasn’t going to be typical, as the summer was HOT, and the rains didn’t come, but the winds DID! Throughout a typical season, we harvest roughly 75% young birds, and we find them mostly in the food strips. This year, as a result of the now-infamous 2012 drought and its effect on the new hatch, we harvested 75% old birds, and the birds just weren’t in the food strips.

Everything looked good in June, as we had a nice amount of spring rains which made for a nice stand of cool-season grasses which leads towards successful nesting and plenty of insects for the young chicks to eat for a good start on life, but as the days of drought and the degrees climbed, the watering holes got lower and fewer. By late September, most watering holes dried up, and the drought started to take its toll on the hatch. Many of the early-hatched birds survived but the later-hatched chicks got cooked.

The lack of rain also led to food plots being less leafy, thick, and full of seed, but what really destroyed the hunting value of the food plots and crop strips was the wind. In mid-October, we had experienced a brutal windstorm that lasted for 48 hours with nonstop winds of 40+mph. The wind blew the plants down or shredded its leaves, leaving sparse cover that wasn’t sufficient for the birds to hide in. Typically, we harvest the majority of roosters from the crop strips. This year, however, we learned to spend our time in habitat other than food plots.

When hunting season arrived, we learned another abnormal characteristic in the year’s pheasant population. Instead of opening week bringing lots of “stupid” birds and easy shots, the birds were older, educated, and WILD! It was quite a surprise to walk into virgin fields and see the birds flying away as the hunters were getting out of the vehicles.

Hmmm…all of these factors affected the hunting strategies significantly, and the hunting was certainly going to require more strategizing. Luckily, for everyone, that’s what we all enjoy doing.

Instead of the pheasants being contained in food plots, the birds were scattered about the land. We found early in the season that most pheasants were congregated in thick habitat around the limited water sources. As the frost and snow arrived, they dispersed from those water spots into dense grass and tree strips. We realized the significant advantage that larger groups would have because of their added capacity to contain! Also, noise reduction, dog control, and being quick into the field were key components to successful hunts and having diverse habitat was crucial.

This past year brought a unique pheasant hunting season that was filled with strategy sessions, great learning opportunities, some challenging hunts, and lots of great new friends and memories!

Thank you all who shared their hunting vacations with us this past year of 2012!

Stephan Stanley

Ringnecks, LLC
P.O. Box 268
Presho, SD 57568