Pheasant Hunting in South Dakota Articles
Thunderstik Lodge South Dakota Pheasant Hunting Habitat Management
by Carey Story
South Dakota Pheasant Population Management
Over the course of a season, the Thunderstik staff gets asked a lot of questions about land management
and how we maintain bird and wildlife populations. First, let me say that environment
management is a constantly changing challenge. Where hindsight is always 20/20, the long-term
weather forecast is never right. And it’s always too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry (that’s the
farmer in me talking).
The old saying, “you can’t beat mother nature” is very true here in South Dakota. That being
said, what we can do is assist nature by giving pheasants a diverse habitat to thrive in. Pheasants
and partridge live out their lives within a home range of a couple square miles. So they need all
habitat components (nesting cover, brood habitat, winter cover, food and water) to be in close
Habitat Management for pheasant hunting in South Dakota
The single most important factor for pheasant populations is nesting habitat. The ideal nesting
cover is secure and undisturbed. Secure means that nesting hens are easily concealed from
predators both on the ground and in the air. Undisturbed means that during the nesting season
from mid April to mid July, the areas are kept free from human and predator disruption. For
nesting cover, we primarily like to use native switch grass and other introduced cool season
grasses like smooth brome.
Food is the next major factor for a healthy bird population. The food plots we all enjoy hunting
in the fall are strategically placed and really serve several purposes year-round. In the spring,
they provide brood cover for young birds. In the summer, food plots attract insects and provide
safe foraging. In the fall, birds find cover and higher sources of feed energy from the grain.
Every time we walk through a food plot in the fall, we are actually feeding the birds by knocking
grain onto the ground. While in the dead of a South Dakota winter the birds use tree belts and
windbreaks for cover, they still need the high protein feed for survival.
We continually work with our land owners to develop ideal habitat. This year, we’re adding
several tree areas to Emanuel’s North and the Dice place
Few subjects get talked about more among our pheasant hunters because we can see the visible
evidence of an adult bird kill nearly every day we are in the field. These losses from fox, hawks
and owls is a concern, but the real threat is nest mortality. Studies have shown that as high as
three-quarters of all pheasant mortality happens in the egg or early chick stages as a result of
skunks, opossums, raccoons and even wild domestic cats. Our local Pheasants Forever chapter
and South Dakota state trappers help us with our nest protection program.
Pheasant Management for pheasant hunting in South Dakota
We have always experimented with a stocking program of some sort. Again, Mother Nature is
the key factor of success. Some years, stocking hens has been successful and other years, this
has not had a large effect on the number of wild birds we see in the fall.
The effect of hunting pressure on bird populations is something I am always studying and
learning about. We know that killing only roosters is the first step. By late winter, ideally we
like roosters to be no more than ten percent of the total population. Most biologist feel level of
roosters provides an adequate number of males for an optimum harvest. We also need a large
number of hens to survive the winter and have the best access to quality feed so they are fit for
the upcoming breeding season.
The high quality of hunting at Thunderstik involves a number of management decisions, constant
attention to what is going on in the wild and ongoing analysis of what we have done in the past.
Above all, we have a willingness to try new techniques in order to stay ahead of our inability
to control Mother Nature.