Every area has its local celebration. For some places it is a remembrance of an important community event, for others it is a national event that gets special emphasis (like the 4th of July celebration in Springfield, SD I posted about). For the state of South Dakota, the third weekend in October is a date of significant importance, as it is the opening weekend of the annual pheasant hunt.
The pheasant is a hardy and elusive bird that is integral to the cultural heritage of the Midwest. Although it is a non-native species, introduced to this continent in 1881, generations of farming families grew up hunting this bird in the fencerows around their fields and pastures. South Dakotans are so fond of this bird that it has been our state bird since 1943.
This tradition of pheasant hunting has become an enormous event in South Dakota. For Carolyn’s family, the opening weekend is a reunion. Uncles, aunts, cousins and siblings come together to push the corn rows and cattails in search of a few birds. While the sound of wings flapping and an old rooster cackling as he takes off get your blood pumping, the best part is the time spent trading stories and jokes with family.
Because of how strongly attached we are to pheasants and the other wildlife we share our home with, hunters are the strongest supporters of wildlife conservation in the world. The licenses we purchase go to wildlife. In addition, hunters promoted and passed an excise tax on ammunition to support wildlife conservation. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this tax brings in $200 million annually for wildlife. Through organizations funded by private donations (such as Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation, etc.) millions of acres of habitat have been preserved or restored.
In short, hunters are the biggest advocates for wildlife. We grew up with these animals and want to see that events like pheasant opener continue indefinitely. With our combined efforts, pheasants will continue to be seen throughout the prairies of South Dakota.
Photo credit: “Pheasant” by gary noon – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pheasant.jpg#/media/File:Pheasant.jpg