South Dakota is home to more than 7 million pheasants and is consistently the best state in the country for bird counts and harvests. In 2021, the traditional season opens on October 16 and runs through January 31, 2022.
Although pheasants are found statewide, the main pheasant range encompasses the eastern two-thirds of the state. Pheasants prefer agricultural fields, wooded draws, tree strips, wetlands, and set-aside acres.
Most of South Dakota is privately owned, so permission to hunt is required, but public lands such as Game Production Areas and Walk-In Areas offer choice habitat for pheasants.
Early in the season, pheasants are scattered in small groups, but winter’s fury concentrates birds into heavy cover. Tree strips, cattail sloughs, and dense weed patches hold pheasants at this time of year.
- Don’t under-gun. Use a 1-1/4 ounce load of #4 lead shot or 1-1/8 ounce of #2 steel shot.
- Use a dog. Crippled birds can be hard to find without a dog. Concentrate on cover that complements the hunting style of your dog.
- Hunt remote pockets. Search for small, out-of-the-way pockets that may have escaped the hunting pressure of large groups. Small sloughs, plum thickets, or even fence-line vegetation hold pheasants.
- Aim for the front half. Pheasants are not particularly fast, but many hunters shoot behind them. Lead the head, not the body, for a clean kill.
- Prepare for the weather. Fall can be a time of wide-ranging weather conditions. Plan to hunt in temperatures and weather from sunny & 70 degrees to snow & below-zero wind chills.
Be sure to review the current South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Hunting and Trapping Handbook. A small game license is required. The daily limit is three rooster pheasants and the possession limit is 15 roosters lawfully harvested in accordance with the daily limit.
If you’re traveling by airplane, transporting your firearms and packaged meat/game via airlines is typically allowed. Check the TSA’s “What Can I Bring” when planning your trip, and contact your airline as each has their own individual policies. Make sure to declare your firearms and ammunition upon check-in at your airline’s ticket counter. Allow yourself more time for check-in or potential screenings, giving yourself 90 minutes or more prior to your flight’s departure time. All firearms must be unloaded and in a locked, hard-sided gun case. Packaged meat/game are allowed in both carry-on and checked bags if packed with ice, ice packs, or up to 5.5 pounds of properly packaged dry ice (airline approval is required) in a cooler or another container.