Pheasant numbers high, state looks for great hunting season

Courtesy photo

WATERTOWN — Pheasant numbers are looking great in South Dakota, and officials with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks department and the Department of Tourism are working hard to make sure everyone knows it.

“2020 was about ensuring our hunters knew what South Dakota had to offer,” said Julie DeJong as she discussed pheasant marketing efforts across the state and region. “2021 will be the year of retention, with emphasis on reaching small game pheasant hunters, encouraging travel and making sure they know about our unique destination story.”

DeJong said the game, fish and parks is in its second year of working jointly with the department of tourism on a three-year pheasant marketing plan. So far the two departments have spent $662,000 on direct marketing to increase the pheasant season. Their efforts have paid off, as last year’s small game license sales were 5,000 higher than the three-year average, and more than $643,000 in revenue directly related to the marketing efforts was brought into the state. The campaign resulted in 55% increased traffic to the GF&P website, a 65% increase in email subscriptions, and a 15% increase in followings on social media.

“Those are all indicators that we have surpassed what we set out to do,” she said. “We’re pretty excited and we’re going to try and not only maintain that, but hopefully surpass that too.”  

DeJong reported that early marketing efforts for the 2021 pheasant hunting season, which runs from Oct. 17-Jan. 31, have already started with cable television and radio podcast advertisements running across the nation. Primary markets include South Dakota hunters, as well as hunters in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Colorado. DeJong reported that 10 percent of the digital media advertisements going out are targeted toward in-state residents.

New marketing efforts this year include a partnership with the Minnesota Vikings, to run advertisements during their football games. DeJong also said the department is working on a partnership with South Dakota State University to run some halftime marketing campaigns.

Nick Harrington, communications director for the S.D. Game, Fish and Parks, said the pheasant season outlook is very good, with high birth numbers.

“We want to make sure people know this,” he said. “Last year was a great year and this year is going to be even better. We want to make sure folks know we are here to hunt and they’re going to have a great time.”

Last year’s hunting season was extended through Jan. 31, and Harrington said a high harvest rate of 27,000 birds was reflected in that.

Tom Kirschenmann, director of the wildlife division, said there is a lot of excitement leading up to the pheasant season. “We had a mild and more open winter this year, which fared well for our pheasant numbers,” he said. “Our bird numbers are high. Habitat conditions are very good and we are very optimistic. We have a high number of broods and we are seeing broods of larger size, which is always very encouraging.”

In fact, Kirschenmann reported that there are more broods this year than the state has had for the last five or six years.

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