Saturday marks the beginning of South Dakota’s traditional pheasant hunting season and state Department of Game, Fish and Parks spokesperson Nick Harrington is confident that the department’s aggressive campaigning will pay off in the months to come.
“This is something that’s been ongoing,” Harrington said. “So it’s part of Gov. (Kristi) Noem’s Second Century Initiative. One step we took during this was actually a partnership with (the South Dakota Department of) Tourism. So we started working very closely with our friends over at South Dakota Tourism to promote South Dakota as the greatest state to pheasant hunt, frankly because we are. When you look at the numbers, when you look at harvest, we are the greatest state to pheasant hunt in.”
Tourism’s Global Media and Public Relations Director Katlyn Svendsen said there was always partnership between Game, Fish and Parks and Tourism, but it became more formal under the Noem administration.
“We’ve always had great collaborations with our partners over at Game, Fish and Parks,” Svendsen said. “But our two departments knew that with some of the initiatives that Gov. Noem had when she first entered the administration that building those partnerships and relationships between our two agencies was going to be more critical than ever in order to continue to bolster the pheasant hunting opportunities and hunting opportunities as a whole in South Dakota.”
Tourism Department Industry Outreach, Development and Research Director Kirk Hulstein said Game, Fish and Parks’ data on hunting license holders came in handy as work on the campaign got underway.
“One of the great things about working with Game, Fish and Parks is that they have a ton of data on their license holders, which was great for us because then we could take those and really analyze all the demographics and... find out maybe where some of the hunters had lapsed as far as age groups and where some of those that would potentially be good audiences to target,” Hulstein said. “So that’s where we started off is we did a lot of analysis on their current license holders, where we are seeing lapsed license holders and what states we were seeing some of those come from.”
Harrington noted that the campaign is aimed to benefit more than just Game, Fish and Parks and Tourism.
“This is for the entire state as a whole,” Harrington said. “I’m talking those Main Street businesses, those small communities that really rely on the hunting and fishing opportunities that we have here in South Dakota. There’s a lot of businesses, a lot of communities that, within the next month, this is when they’re going to pay their bills, this is when they’re going to keep the lights on, this is when they’re going to pay salaries.”
Harrington also pointed to high 2021 sales of nonresident small game licenses as reason for optimism, though he noted that it’s still very early.
“This is a very small sample size and we’re early in the game, but what we’re looking at especially for those nonresident small game numbers, we’re looking about 73 percent above the three-year average from where we are,” Harrington said on Thursday. “And now, again, I’ll say that with an asterisk because (it’s a) small sample size. Honestly, yesterday, today is when we’re going to see the licenses really start being purchased. That Wednesday-Thursday-Friday right before season, that’s when a lot of folks are getting into the state or they’re starting to plan their hunts. But it’s really encouraging that we have had so many licenses sold. I hope we can carry that momentum through the season.”
In 2021, according to Game, Fish and Parks’ Ringneck Outlook, 121,331 hunters harvested 1,108,420 pheasants in South Dakota. Noting that the “incredible” extended 2020 season (through Jan. 31) is set up to be followed by a 2021 season “shaping up to be even better,” the outlook also claims 100,000 nest predator removals from the pheasant range over the past three years.
“When predator removal is done in this manner, local duck and pheasant nest success has been positively influenced,” the outlook states.
Svendsen shared in Harrington’s optimism about the 2021 season, noting all the legwork Tourism and Game, Fish and Parks did in 2020.
“The best is yet to come, I think,” Svendsen said. “And we’re really anxious to see where our future collaboration can take our state as a whole.”