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An Ode to the Pheasant Capital of the World

By Sen. John Thune

October 15, 2021

For many South Dakotans, the third Saturday of October is Christmas morning’s toughest competition. Opening weekend is a time when friends and loved ones can come together, enjoy a beautiful fall weekend, and hopefully bag a few ringnecks in the “pheasant capital of the world.”

I know I’m not alone when I say this unofficial holiday is circled on my calendar every year. For me, this has always been a family experience. I’m forever grateful to my dad for instilling this South Dakota tradition in me and my siblings. And I’m even more grateful to be able to pass this tradition down to future generations.

The hunt itself can sometimes be overshadowed by the anticipation – digging up the blaze orange, cleaning shotguns, and telling stories about seasons past. It’s all part of the tradition, and it never gets old.

It’s hard to picture what fall in South Dakota would be like without hunting ringnecks. For hotels, restaurants, sporting goods stores, and hardware stores, opening weekend signifies weeks and months of hard work and preparation. Folks from around the world travel to South Dakota to experience pheasant hunting season, and they bring hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity with them.Small businesses across the state depend on the revenue generated from the influx of hunters and out-of-town visitors throughout the season. 

This may be obvious, but without pheasants, there’s no pheasant hunting. A key contributor to South Dakota’s pheasant population is the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which was created to take environmentally sensitive land out of production and increase wildlife habitat. Now, CRP has evolved into a 20+ million-acre program that saves millions of tons of soil from erosion and improves water quality so pheasants can adequately nest and raise their young. CRP also provides a sound economic alternative to placing expensive seed, fertilizer, and chemicals on high-risk marginal land. As a longtime member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry and a lifelong hunter, I am a strong supporter of CRP and grateful for the farmers and landowners who participate in the program.

Hunting season in South Dakota is a special time of year. I hope folks are able to carve out some time in the next few months to get outside and partake in this timeless tradition. I wish all the hunters a safe and successful season.