South Dakota’s Unofficial October Holiday
By Sen. John Thune
For many South Dakotans, myself included, the third Saturday in October is always circled on the calendar. While most fall weekends are primetime for college football and Major League Baseball playoffs, those are all overshadowed, at least for me, by walking through a food plot, slough, or corn field and hearing a friend or family member yell, “rooster!” The South Dakota pheasant opener is more than an annual event. It’s an unofficial holiday, and it’s right around the corner.
For me, hunting has always been more about the experience than the number of birds I bring home. Sure, limiting out on ringnecks is great, but it’s the memories I’m able to create along the way that matter the most. As long as I’m walking the fields with friends and family, an empty hunting vest never bothers me. I’m blessed that I’m still able to enjoy hunts with my siblings and my dad who is 97 years young. My sons-in-law have also taken up pheasant hunting, which is exciting for me to be able to pass this tradition on to the next generation.
We wouldn’t have pheasants in South Dakota if it were not for the several hundred thousand acres of suitable habitat that allows them to survive and successfully reproduce in our sometimes harsh climate. We’re fortunate to have landowners throughout the state who both love the thrill of the hunt and understand the importance of wildlife habitat and conservation. We couldn’t have one without the other. While the land and opportunities exist in South Dakota, this year’s drought and diminishing Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) footprint didn’t do the pheasant population any favors. According to a state survey, the population is 45 percent smaller than it was last year.
For a lot of hunters, when they hear CRP mentioned, they think of pheasants. The popular and well-respected conservation program provides incentives for landowners to set aside portions of their property that can serve as nesting and brood-rearing areas for pheasants. This year’s low pheasant population and low commodity prices are great reasons to increase the number of available CRP acres. This is why I’ve introduced legislation that would boost the CRP acreage cap to 30 million acres in the next Farm Bill, which represents a 25 percent increase. I’ve introduced additional bills in Congress that would authorize a shorter-term (three-five years) conserving use program that would complement CRP, and expand the sodsaver initiative nationwide, which is something I first authored in the 2008 and 2014 farm bills.
Each year pheasant season brings people from around the world to South Dakota, and it has a significant residual effect on the state’s economy. Pheasant hunters bring hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity with them. They’re staying in hotels, eating at restaurants and diners, and they’re picking up supplies at sporting goods stores around the state. It’s important that we look for ways to strengthen and preserve the state’s pheasant population, which is what several of my farm bill proposals are aimed at achieving.
They don’t call South Dakota the “pheasant capital of the world” for nothing, so as folks hop in their trucks, put on their blaze orange, and bring their dogs into the field, I wish everyone a safe, successful, and memorable hunt.