Pheasant hunting came as naturally as October to the Dell Rapids area where I grew up. Some of my fondest high school memories are of walking with friends and family members through wooded draws and fields of harvested corn, eagerly anticipating the cackle of a flushing rooster pheasant. The fall hunt is a tradition almost as old as South Dakota itself.
The tradition renewed itself last weekend, and I was fortunate enough to be with a group of hunters in the Eureka area for the season opener. The hunting party represented several generations. Some members of the party lived on the land we hunted. Others came from neighboring states to rejoin their families. The party included a few members too young to carry a gun, but already experiencing the essence of a South Dakota pheasant hunt as they learned gun safety, respect for wildlife and appreciation of the land.
We've all seen the reports that pheasant numbers are down this year, perhaps as much as 64 percent. I know I had a great hunt opening weekend and each year during the Governor's Pheasant Hunt I look forward to introducing out-of-state business prospects to our unrivaled experience. Even when our bird numbers are down, South Dakota is still the world's premier destination for pheasant hunting.
But we shouldn't ignore the numbers or the concerns about our pheasant population. Weather, habitat, farm policy, farming practices and predators are some of the reasons I've heard for the decrease in birds. Like you, I've heard much anecdotal evidence. But to address a problem, anecdotes aren't enough. We must gather the facts and use those facts to make sound policy decisions.
That's why I've called a Pheasant Habitat Summit to discuss the future of this great sport in South Dakota. At the summit we will work toward a common understanding of the facts. We will hear presentations from subject-matter experts. We will identify and talk about current programs that impact habitat and other issues. Finally, we will draw upon the collective brain power of those attending for ideas and possible solutions.
The summit is Dec. 6 at the Crossroads Convention Center in Huron and is open to the public. Pre-registration is required, and I invite anyone interested to register online at http://gfp.sd.gov/pheasantsummit/. Information and registration are also available by calling the Game, Fish and Parks Department at 605-773-3387. I look forward to a good discussion and hope to see you there.
As we work together on this important issue, I'd like us to remember we have it pretty good in South Dakota. The worst season of pheasant hunting here is still a better experience than the best season most other places. And that's a tradition we owe it to future generations to maintain.