Raising ringnecks helps hunting in Clay County Helping contribute to the pheasant population in Clay County by releasing ringnecks in late summer that were raised on area farms this year are Chris Mart, Michael Walker, William Mart, Nick Mart and Tanner Mart. (Photo by Lanny Walker) by David Lias Come every mid-October, places like Gregory and Redfield and Mitchell and Aberdeen make the headlines.
Those communities are located in some of the hottest pheasant hunting spots in South Dakota.
Vermillion and Clay County don't enjoy that distinction, but the local Southeast South Dakota Pheasant Association is taking steps to change that.
The organization was created approximately 20 years ago. For a while, its efforts to build up pheasant numbers in the county were discontinued.
They've been going strong, however, for approximately five years now.
"A lot of guys put a lot of work in 20 years ago, but then it died out for five or six years," said Troy Gregoire, president of the association. "But things were reactivated in 1999."
Association member Lanny
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Walker said the focus of the organization is habitat development and adding new ringnecks to the local pheasant population each year.
"The problem with our area in comparison to the real pheasant populations here in South Dakota is we lack the cover," he said. "We lack the CRP land, the grassland, the wetlands that all of these other places have.
"In order for the pheasant population to re-emerge here in our area, we need to have more cover," Walker said. "Probably the biggest part of our program is to purchase more land and convert that into strictly pheasant habitat which is also going to be used for member-associated public hunting."
After purchasing land, the association strives to populate that land and other property in the county with pheasants.
Clay County may not have a reputation as a ringneck hotspot, but Gregoire said there was considerable local hunting activity on opening day earlier this month.
"I saw a lot of people out hunting," he said. "It used to be that local people took off and went to Aberdeen or Kimball, or all over the state. Now you're starting to see a lot of the guys stay around here and hunt because the birds are around here now."
The pheasant population in Clay County is up 185 percent over last year, Gregoire said, according to surveys conducted by state Game, Fish and Parks officials.
"Every year we release 3,000 birds," he said. "We band them all, and it does have to help some."
"At least half of those birds are roosters, and there are bands turned in from birds released in previous years," Walker said. "It kind of contradicts the train of thought that released birds don't hold over (from one year to the next)."
The Southeast South Dakota Pheasant Association is on the cutting edge, he added, in its efforts to build the local ringneck population.
"We're trying to figure out new techniques to try to make sure these pheasants are going to last," Walker said. "We're looking into the possibility of releasing bred hens; some people have had luck with that."
Gregoire and Walker believe the boost in bird numbers this year will mean more hunters will be out stalking the birds in the county throughout the season's stretch, which ends in December.
Association members play a vital role in boosting the local pheasant population by raising birds every year.
"We provide the materials for the pens, and we've even moved abandoned sheds and used them for brooder houses," Walker said.
Association members help build pens. Recently, a pen large enough for 500 ringnecks was constructed on a Clay County farm.
"We've got about seven places where pheasants are being raised right now," Walker said, and we provide the feed for the birds."
The association's pheasant restoration efforts are made possible by strong community support, Gregoire said. "Every dollar that we make at our banquet in the spring stays right here in Clay County," he said. "All of the money is spent on buying birds, releasing birds and purchasing more land."
It's turning out to be a win-win situation. Many of the local businesses who financially help support the association's efforts in turn receive a boost in business from hunters who come to the Clay County for opening day.
"It brings in a lot of hunters," Walker said. "It's good for the economy here to bring in all of these hunters."