SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A South Dakota tradition gets underway this week. 

The 2023 ring-necked pheasant hunting season starts Saturday, Oct. 21 and runs until Wednesday, Jan. 31. It’s the fourth year the pheasant hunting season will last more than 100 days in South Dakota and hunters will look to harvest more than the 1.15 million birds in 2022. 

Last year, there were 73,887 non-resident pheasant hunters and 53,846 resident hunters and a 2017 market research report concluded hunting in South Dakota resulted in more than $600 million in direct spending in the state. 

Pheasants Forever South Dakota State Coordinator Matt Gottlob told KELOLAND News the state continues to remain the pheasant hunting capital of the world. 

“Hunters had really good success last year bagging over 1.15 million birds all across the state,” Gottlob said. “We did have a tough winter in some areas, but we’ve been really pleasantly surprised with how well birds have done and good nesting throughout the state.” 

Whether you are an experienced hunter or new to South Dakota pheasant hunting, below is a guide for what you need to know for all things pheasant hunting-related. 

What is a ring-necked pheasant? 

Not native to South Dakota, the ring-necked pheasant was first successfully introduced to the state in 1908, according to the secretary of state’s website. The colorful bird became the state’s official state bird in 1943. Biologists have been studying the birds for many years and continue to learn more about what makes the birds thrive. 

Pheasant in Boone County . (Courtesy: Bob Tate)

South Dakota has offered some sort of formal pheasant hunting since 1919. For a single day hunt, three rooster pheasants is the limit for one licensed hunter. A possession limit of 15 pheasants, three birds a day for five days, is the possession limit. 

To report poaching, tips can be sent to TIPS.SD.GOV or by calling 1-888-OVERBAG. 

What do I need to hunt? 

In South Dakota, the Game, Fish and Parks Department regulates the pheasant hunting season, which always starts on the third Saturday in October. Residents of South Dakota need a small game hunting license, a combination license, a youth small game license or a 1-day small game license, while nonresidents can purchase nonresident small game licenses or nonresident youth small game licenses for two 5-day hunting periods. 

Hunters typically use a 12-gauge shotgun to shoot and kill the birds, but 20-gauge and 16-gauge shotguns are also popular options. Shooting hours start at 10 a.m. Central Time and that time is used for shooting hours statewide. 

Where can I hunt? 

Most of South Dakota’s land is open to pheasant hunting, but permission is needed to hunt on private land. Only designated public lands are open for walk-in hunting. 

Each year, the GFP prints and updates a South Dakota Public Hunting Atlas to identify the more than 5 million acres of game production areas, walk-in areas, waterfowl production areas, school and public lands, national forests and grasslands. 

The GFP also says 80% of land in South Dakota is privately owned and most hunting occurs on private land. 

You can learn more about hunting areas on the GFP website.

KELOLAND News featured a hunting preserve near Estelline called Black’s Pheasant Fields that allows for pheasant hunting outside of the traditional season. According to GFP data, there’s more than 225 private shooting preserves for pheasant hunting where more than 350,581 pheasants were harvested.

2023 Pheasant outlook

Official pheasant count surveys by the GFP stopped after 2019. 

Biologists with both the GFP and Pheasants Forever, a non-profit organization dedicated to wildlife habitat for pheasants, are expecting a similar hunting season to 2022. 

“Pheasant population conversations start and end with good quality habitat,” the GFP’s upland outlook said about its pheasant hunting forecast. “While Old Man Winter had a long stay here, quality habitat on the ground helped improve pheasant survival in many areas.” 

Pheasants Forever’s forecast said “there’s no doubt there was likely above-average pheasant mortality due to the harsh winter weather, recent field reports from around the state all point to the 2023 season being better than anticipated.” 

Gottlob said a harsh winter can be like a double-edged sword. 

“We are going to lose a few birds and wildlife overall with those harsh winter snows, but that moisture is also crucial in order to get things going for this year – creating good nesting habitats as well as refilling a lot of dams, reservoirs and lakes,” Gottlob said.