By Dan Bechtold, Editor
Pheasant hunting season opens Saturday, Oct. 21, hunters will be flocking to Tripp County in search of birds.
Hunting officially starts on noon on Saturday.
Drought and hail took a toll on the pheasant population in Tripp County this year.
The South Dakota Game Fish and Parks annual brood survey revealed a 45 percent decline statewide.
However, even with low pheasant numbers the Tripp County area will see an influx of hunters on the opening day of pheasant season on Saturday, Oct. 21.
The opening weekend is a great time in Winner as the community rolls out the orange carpet to welcome pheasant hunters to our state and city. It is that Winner/Tripp County hospitality that keeps hunters coming back to this area. And that will certainly be true the opening weekend. There is always a buzz and an anticipation in Winner as the opener draws closer.
GFP officials say while the news is disappointing, it is not unexpected. “The difficult winter weather and subsequent drought conditions in various parts of the state will result in hunters having to work harder at trying to take home their daily limit. Even with these conditions, pheasant hunting opportunities in South Dakota continue to be the best in the country,” said Kelly Hepler, GFP department secretary.
In Winner, like in other areas, there was a decline in the bird count. The 2017 survey showed 2.52 pheasants per mile compared to 4.88 in 2016. That is a 48 percent decline. The 10 year average for Winner is 6.94 pheasants per mile.
Nate Stukel, conservation officer in Winner, said this year they drove two routes, a 30 mile route and count every pheasant that they see. “We are looking for hens and heir broods. We compare these routes with previous numbers,” said Stukel.
The conservation officer says the lower numbers fits with what he is seeing in the county. “I am seeing less birds and that is the same thing I hear from folks driving up to Presho on Highway 183.”
Stukel says the lower numbers is tied to the drought. The dry conditions were harder on the birds. The pheasant chicks rely on bugs for their main food source. With the drought there is less bugs.
The conservation officer explains the first 10 days live chicks cannot regular their body temperature. He said this summer with the high temperatures it was hard on the birds.
Couple this with two hail storms that crossed Tripp County. “We were already hurting with the drought and the hail storms just added on top of that. You loose cover and the hail stones probably hit the chicks. It has definitely been a tough year.”
Stukel says it is all relative. “We still have some of the best pheasant hunting in the county. I like to tell people the birds are still out there they are just harder to find. Be prepared to do some extra walking,” he said.
Some of the crops are coming out of the field and with good weather this week there should be a lot of crops out by the time of the season opener Stukel added.
The resident only pheasant hunt was Oct. 14, 15 and 16. This was only on public land.
Each day Stukel gets calls from hunters wondering about the bird population.
Originally from Gregory, Stukel is excited to be back in this part of South Dakota. “It will be a challenge,” he said. Previously in Lincoln County, on the opener he would count 6 to 12 pheasants that had been harvested. He knows he will see many more in Tripp County. “It will be a challenge but it is exciting to be in the pheasant capital.”
The conservation officer has advise for hunters. He says don’t be afraid to be extra walking and work. If the birds don’t get out right away don’t be discouraged.
Common violations conservation offices see is trespassing, violation of the road hunting rules and safety zone rules. Hunters cannot shoot out of vehicle. They cannot shoot within 660 feet of livestock and buildings.
The bird that is shot has to be in the ditch. If it lands on a farmers property and you cross over a fence to get it that is trespassing.
In cleaning pheasants, transportation requirements must be followed. There must be enough identifying marks left on the bird.
He says for the pheasant opener the whole town of Winner gets involved.
For a lot of people it is having family and friends come back. “That is something I wish more people would take advantage of in hunting.
In Tripp County there are 8 walk in areas and 10 game production areas where persons can hunt.
Stukel says he walk in area is a great program. He would encourage a call from anyone who would like to take part in this program.
This is the second year GFP has allowed hunters to carry their license on their smart phone.
Persons can also download the GFP app on their smart phone. Stukel said everything you need is right there on that app.
The pheasant hunting season that starts on Oct. 21 runs through Jan. 7, 2018. On Saturday, hunting starts at noon. The daily limit is 3 rooster pheasants.