Pheasant hunting—a lucrative fall ritual

South Dakota State Roundup

Published January 1, 1996  | January 1996 issue

Since 1919 hunters have descended on the eastern two-thirds of South Dakota during the annual fall pheasant season, substantially boosting the region's economy.

Figures were not available for the '95 hunting season, which ran from mid-October to Dec. 24, but in 1994 about 64,000 out-of-state licenses were issued at $65 each. That income goes to the state's Game, Fish and Parks Department, along with the fees from about 80,000 resident hunters who paid $19 for a license.

But there's more than license fees to be gained: The estimated total annual economic impact on the state is $50 million to $60 million for the average season, according to the Game, Fish and Parks Department. That takes in the farmers who host hunters on their land or in their homes. But most obvious is the boost to the hospitality industry.

"Hunting produces a lot of cash flow, especially in rural areas that don't have many other tourism draws," says Ken Moum, Game, Fish and Parks wildlife division information specialist. For example, the town of Murdo generally fills its motels during the summer months with tourists en route to the Black Hills, Moum says, but pheasant hunting allows the motels to extend their season.

In Mitchell's Davis County in 1994, 6,000 out-of-state hunters took out licenses, and according to Chris Stewart, director of the Mitchell Convention Visitors Bureau, spent about $100 a day during stays of two to three days, and contributed about $2 million to the local economy over the course of the season. Mitchell has 840 motel rooms and during the first two weekends of the pheasant season all were filled, Stewart says, adding that 20 to 30 private homeowners invite hunters to stay as well. "It's also a good partnership with farmers," Stewart says. Bryan Hisel, executive director of the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce, concurs that pheasant hunting is a good secondary source of income for area farmers. "They're blessed with a secondary cash crop," he says.

For the first two to three weeks of the hunting season, Hisel says, "The Mitchell airport is a who's who of Fortune 500 companies' corporate jets," he says of the 50 or 60 planes parked.

South Dakota is one of the top two pheasant harvest states (the other is Iowa) and claims the top number of birds per hunter per season, Moum says. The plentiful pheasant population, nearly 5 million in '94 and the highest since the early '60s when South Dakota had an estimated 10 million pheasants, is due largely to the Conservation Reserve Program that allows natural pheasant habitats to thrive, according to Ken Anderson, Game, Fish and Parks' director of administration.

Kathy Cobb