Hunting & Heritage  |  09/27/2022

South Dakota Pheasant Harvest Counts


Arriving at final number requires a mix of surveys, science and statistical analysis

By Tom Carpenter

When Pheasants Forever recently published its 2022 Pheasant Hunting Forecast for South Dakota, this editor made a mistake on the facts about South Dakota’s 1-million-plus pheasant harvest number and those birds harvested on private shooting preserves. The error was corrected, but my “bad” also raised an interesting question for this repenting editor and five-decade pheasant hunting junky:

Just how are our top pheasant state’s harvest numbers tallied, and what is entailed in the process?

“After the season, we take a random sample of 15,000 resident and 15,000 nonresident pheasant hunting license holders, and send them an email survey,” says Corey Huxoll, Game Harvest Survey Wildlife Biologist with South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (SDGFP). “We do not send hunter harvest surveys to preserve-only license holders.”

Therein is the fact I should have checked. South Dakota’s pheasant harvest reporting process is designed to track birds harvested with non-preserve licenses while harvest on shooting preserves is handled separately.

But how does the tally develop?

“When responses come in, the number-crunching begins, but basically we use statistical models to project out the harvest across the full number of hunters who actually hit the field,” says Huxoll. “We know this number by knowing how many survey respondents did not hunt.” That assures that harvest counts are not overstated. So does the practice of excluding preserve-only license holders.

Alex Solem, Senior Upland Game Biologist for SDGFP, places a high level of confidence in the harvest reporting model. “Our survey protocol was put in place long ago, and has evolved and improved over time. It’s as accurate as it can possibly be.”

How accurate? “Statistically speaking, we also generate and include 95% confidence intervals around our harvest estimates to measure the degree of uncertainty from our sampling,” Solem says. “These are listed in our pheasant harvest reports.”

What is a confidence interval of 95%? To this non-statistician who likes to keep things simple, my research shows it is the degree of confidence around a number’s accuracy. And 95% is a bet most any of us would take.

“The full reports are available here, and the interested reader can find more details on the pheasant harvest counting process too,” adds Huxoll.

Private shooting preserves are also part of why South Dakota is the number one pheasant harvest state and contribute to the annual pheasant frenzy. “Pheasant harvest from private shooting preserves are tracked separately as each permitted operator is required to report the number of birds taken,” says Tom Kirschenmann, Director of the Wildlife Division at SDGFP. “Total pheasants harvested during the 2021-22 private shooting preserve season was 350,581.” Shooting preserve season results are tracked here.

While I am sorry the error was made, I am glad I got to learn a few things in the process of setting the record straight. As a dedicated South Dakota pheasant fan, I hope I make the survey list one of these years, to report on the birds I know Lark and I will find, as we always do.

Tom Carpenter is editor at Pheasants Forever.