South Dakota pheasant hunters see blue skies, lots of birds

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Pheasant hunters from around the country making their annual trek to South Dakota were greeted Saturday with warm weather and blue skies on opening day.

Despite extreme drought conditions in the spring, when pheasants nest and hatch, a mild winter and positive field reports from throughout the state should help the success rate, wildlife officials said.

“We didn’t have any significant snow events,” said Matt Morlock, acting director for Pheasants Forever in South Dakota. “So birds could get out and feed in open fields and then tuck right back into thermal cover during the few cold snaps we had.”

Phil Miller, a dentist from Georgia who makes yearly hunting trips to South Dakota, said he likes the state’s “welcoming culture,” all the way from the greetings at the airport to the hosts in the field.

“We love to just get out. I’ve bagged probably more today than I did the last two years combined,” Miller said Saturday.

Wildlife officials said more than 1.1 million pheasants were harvested by 121,000 hunters in South Dakota last year, when the state Legislature extended the season from 79 to 107 days.

Miller’s friend, Tom Jackson, said he was happy to be back in pheasant country after missing the 2020 season.

“I’d love to bag plenty of birds for the next few days but I just also like getting out here to South Dakota,” said Miller, a Georgia doctor. “It’s a wonderful place to be.”