South Dakota and Pierre are known for good pheasant hunting, but the capital city recently received another acknowledgement as a place where bird hunters can find everything they want.
The city and surrounding area, including the Fort Pierre National Grassland, was recently named as the number one place in the country for bird hunting by Pheasants Forever because of the diversity of its hunting opportunities.
Pierre was followed by Lewistown, Mont., Hettinger, N.D., Huron, S.D., and Valentine, Neb., on the 25-slot list.
Anthony Hauck, the online editor for Pheasants Forever who compiled the rankings, said it started last year as the 25 best areas for pheasant hunting. While South Dakota was well represented, Pierre was not mentioned, in what Hauck said was a “glaring omission,” while trying to be representative of the whole country.
“The reality is you can pick 25 towns from South Dakota (for pheasant hunting),” he said.
For the overall bird hunting list, Hauck said the area gained the number one spot because there are not too many places in the country that provide the mix-bag opportunities at the level offered in Pierre. Within an hour’s drive of the town there are opportunities for a hunter to bag “the grand slam” of the Dakotas: sharp-tailed grouse, prairie chicken, Hungarian partridge, and, of course, pheasant.
Also, the ability to hunt on public lands solidified Pierre’s standing, Hauck said. Public access is crucial for people who want to travel and hunt, and not necessary rely on a lodge or hunting guide, he said.
Hauck gave special mention to the Fort Pierre National Grassland, saying it’s managed specifically to foster bird populations.
Ruben Mares, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service at the grassland, said the whole theory behind the grassland’s management is to provide habitat for various birds, using the greater prairie chicken as an indicator species.
Habitat creation is mainly achieved through grazing control. According to Range Management Specialist Darrin Jons, the grassland tries to rest at least 11,600 acres a year, roughly 10 percent of the total acreage, from grazing to provide areas for the birds to mate and raise broods.
Areas with wooded draws are also grazed in the spring or fall, in order to make it less likely that cattle will gather there in summer and eat the vegetation.
Mares said the service also asks hunters who hunt on the grassland to turn in a wing from each bird they harvest so biologists can determine adult-to-juvenile ratios and overall condition.
John Cooper, vice chairman of the Game, Fish and Parks Commission, said the GFP plants trees and low shrubbery, mainly for pheasant cover, including in game production areas across Hughes, Stanley and Sully counties.
The GFP also has a series of food plots where they will cultivate a location close to water, planting milo, corn and millet as both cover and food crop for birds. These plots can be between a quarter acre and 20 acres in size, he said.
Cooper also said the GFP provides numerous resources to hunters, including maps, hunter atlases and online resources so out-of-town hunters can plan where to go before they leave home.
Hauck said those considerations, in addition to welcoming hotels and restaurants, may not have been included in the official criteria for the ranking, but certainly didn’t hurt.
“The hospitality in Pierre is not unmatched, but it didn’t go unnoticed,” he said.