Pheasant Hunting in South Dakota
Thanks to excellent habitat and conservation & management efforts, South Dakota is home to more than 7.1 million pheasants and is consistently the best state in the country for bird counts and harvests. In 2018, hunters bagged 950,883 birds during pheasant season. In 2020, the traditional season opens on October 17 and runs through January 3, 2021. The South Dakota shooting preserve season — which includes game birds like pheasants, partridges, quail and turkey — runs from September 1 until March 31, 2021.
Range and Habitat
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.
Pheasant Hunting Tips:
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.
Rules and Regulations
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.
Get Your South Dakota Small-Game License
Experience why South Dakota is home to the greatest pheasant hunting. The greatest number of birds in the nation and the best fields — with plenty of public access — make for the greatest traditions and memories you could ever find.