We think Governor Noem’s decision to move the Governor’s Hunt to the Sioux Falls area in 2020 is a mistake — a big mistake.
Noem, who campaigned on becoming “Sportsman in Chief” for South Dakota pheasant hunting, intends to turn the Governor’s hunt into a public sportsman’s show while promoting the state’s business climate and schmoozing business leaders with a banquet. She claims that Sioux Falls will ease accessibility to what she intends to do.
While the Governor’s Hunt certainly belongs to Noem as governor, and she decides where, when and how it is held, there are a number of reasons her decision seems not very well thought out at best, self-serving at worst:
Perhaps the most powerful reason to keep the hunt in Pierre is economic.
Sioux Falls, with more than 265,000 people in the metro area (nearly 157,000 in city limits), according to recent estimates, is home to finance companies, health care concerns (four big-name hospitals alone), ag manufacturers, large meat processors, and other businesses. It is a regional shopping and dining center. The median household income there is more than $76,000.
Simply put, Sioux Falls has plenty of economic activity going on.
Pierre and the central counties on the other hand have far less. While we’re rightly proud of the 14,000 people who call Pierre home, and what we do have — Avera Hospital, all the things associated with state government’s headquarters, a slew of great businesses small and large, etc. — we’re still a “little big town,” the second smallest state capital area in the U.S.
Pierre’s median household income was nearly $43,000, $52,000 for a family. One set of figures, claimed 5.5 percent of the families in Pierre and 7.8 percent of the overall population lives below the poverty line. So, who needs some more “business climate” Gov. Noem, bustling Sioux Falls, or Pierre and the central part of the state?
Related to this is the financial value of an event like the Governor’s Hunt.
South Dakotans well understand what the influx of deep-pocketed non-resident hunters does for local economies. Noem’s own Game, Fish and Parks (GFP) keeps track of this, and when comparing Pierre and the central counties to the southeast and Sioux Falls, the economics just don’t add up:
According to 2018 GFP numbers, nearly 3,400 hunters, including more than 2,000 non-residents, hunted pheasants in Hughes County. They bagged more than 26,000 birds and spent $6.1 million to do so — non-residents plunking down $4 million of that. As a result, a single Hughes County rooster could be said to be worth $231.
Other central region counties share similar economics:
About 2,200 Sully County hunters, 1,187 non-residents, shot 20,000 roosters and spent $3.9 million — non-residents, $2.4 million of this — doing so, for a $191 per bird figure.
Stanley County birds were worth about $207 each, with 1,743 hunters spending more than $3 million to bag almost 15,000 birds.
Top-ranked Brule County hosted 5,000 non-residents vs. 1,400 residents, who shot more than 55,000 pheasants while spending $12.7 million, and almost $11 million coming from the non-residents, bringing each bird to $229 in value.
More than 3,700 Lyman County non-residents spent $7.5 of $10 million total to shoot almost 44,000 pheasants.
Southeast region numbers can’t compare, especially non-residents figures.
No offense intended, but top-ranked McCook County, the southeast’s pheasant “hotspot,” saw more locals (1,480) than non-residents (359) hunting pheasants there. The locals paid $2.2 million to hunt, while non-residents contributed just $700,000. The pheasant bag reflected this, with just 11,525 birds, fewer than all but three central counties.
Minnehaha was similar, with 1,200-plus locals vs. 297 non-residents bagging 5,700 birds. But this jacked up the per bird value to more than $436.
Lake, Turner, Lincoln and Moody counties all had far more resident hunters than non-residents hunting, bags far less than even low central region counties, as well as paltry money totals from pheasant hunting.
GFP hunter surveys show the main reason people love South Dakota pheasant hunting are social relationships. For locals, the pheasant opener offers an excuse for sharing a tradition with family and friends.
For the deep-pocketed, high-pressure businessmen from both coasts that Noem hopes to draw to Sioux Falls in 2020, its another reason: After many years of experiencing Governor’s hunts, they’ve grown fond of our laid back, happy-to-help-you, congenial ways. You don’t get that in cities on coasts right or left. So what happens when these relationships are broken, Gov. Noem? Who benefits?
Perhaps owning a pay-to-shoot pheasant operation has resulted in Gov. Noem not needing to decipher where pheasant hunting is best in her own state. Still, simple common sense says that if you want to show big-wig business tycoons a good time, you go where the roosters are, put-and-take or otherwise. Frankly, the southeast, while charming, ain’t it. What happens when the sports get disappointed not seeing birds. Will they head towards Pierre, where there are plenty of birds, anyhow?
Breaking with tradition
Unless you hunt, it’s difficult to understand the importance of hunting traditions. Sometimes hunters continue to go to a place where game might actually be scarce simply because they have a tradition of being there — those relationships again.
The Governor’s hunt began in Pierre — the governor’s “home” — with Gov. Joe Foss, in the 1950s. Gov. Bill Janklow revitalized the hunt in the 1980s, accelerating the economic promotion end it.
Breaking this tradition breaks those social relationships.
Perhaps the hunt needs some revitalization. There are ways to accomplish this — without moving it.
The bottom line is this: Continuing to hold the hunt in the central region can and has resulted in invited guests seeing what we have to offer and deciding to start or relocate businesses here. Gov. Noem has taken this opportunity away by moving the hunt to Sioux Falls.
Bad move, Kristi, bad move.
Based on these things, we think Gov. Noem should reconsider her decision. How about you?