GF&P will not resume pheasant brood count survey in South Dakota

May 6, 2024

Joshua Haiar (S.D. Searchlight)

PIERRE, S.D.–State wildlife officials are not bringing back a popular method of estimating South Dakota’s pheasant population, despite requests from the public to do so.

South Dakota is one of the top states for pheasant hunting in the nation, with millions of birds and millions of dollars in economic impact from the hunters that flock to the state each fall.

When the Department of Game, Fish and Parks recently released the draft of its new pheasant management plan for 2024 to 2028, the end of the document said that “by 2028,” the department planned to “improve existing population monitoring programs to develop survey methods to inform biologists on population status, reproductive success, and relative densities of pheasant populations.”

After reading that draft plan, some people wrote in to tell the department that the way to improve population monitoring programs is to reinstate the old method — commonly called the “brood count.”

“I continue to be amazed and disgusted that GFP no longer conducts the summer brood count survey,” John McDermott wrote in a comment to the department.

“Reinstate the statewide pheasant annual brood survey,” Larry Fredrickson wrote.

“Bring back the brood survey,” Mark Schaefer wrote.

In response, the department deleted the language in the draft plan that sparked the comments.

GF&P Senior Upland Game Biologist Alex Solem told the GF&P Commission on Friday that the change to the plan came “after just some kind of public comments and that sort of stuff.” The commission unanimously approved the new version of the plan, without the language calling for improved population monitoring programs.

The state started the brood count as early as 1960 and ended it in 2019, citing concerns at the time that reports of lower pheasant numbers ahead of the hunting season deterred out-of-state hunters from traveling to South Dakota.

The department explained the rationale for ending the count in a Pheasant Hunting Marketing Workgroup and Plan. It said ending the count would “ensure that South Dakota is not unintentionally deterring hunters from coming to our state based on the media headlines reporting of low bird numbers.”

Prior to the brood count’s end, department staff conducted it by driving the same rural routes annually to count groups of young pheasants and hens. Those observations and other variables, including a winter male-to-female ratio count and hunter harvest numbers, were fed into a formula to determine a pheasant population estimate ahead of the hunting season. The last brood count in 2019 reflected a 17% drop in pheasants counted per mile.