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South Dakota Bird Hunting for Pheasants, Grouse, and More

South Dakota Bird Hunting for Pheasants, Grouse, and More

Hunting pheasant in a corn field with a lab

There’s a good reason why South Dakota is synonymous with bird hunting.

Each fall, South Dakota rolls out the red carpet for resident and nonresident upland bird hunters alike. It’s worth at least one trip in your lifetime, if not an annual pilgrimage, just to see the staggering numbers of pheasants and the orange-clad hunters that come to pursue them. The numbers leave no doubt as to why South Dakota is known as the pheasant capital of the U.S.: According to South Dakota Game, Fish, & Parks, the average pheasant harvest over the past ten years has been 1.2 million birds annually. That’s a lot of birds, no matter how you look at it.

While the gaudy pheasants tend to get the most attention, South Dakota offers exceptional hunting opportunities for sharptail grouse and prairie chickens, too. There’s always a chance of finding Huns in pockets of agricultural land, and if you really want to get off the beaten path, you can look for ruffed grouse in the forested areas of the Black Hills.

Access is relatively easy, and South Dakota GF&P does its part to help hunters figure out where they can hunt. Public and publicly-accessible private land is published in an annual Hunting Atlas and tends to be well-signed. Private land opportunities abound, too, with plenty of lodges and outfitters ready to host your hunting trip at various price points and service levels. 

To further the idea that hunters and their dollars are welcome in South Dakota, the state publishes an annual “Pheasant Economics” report which tracks spending against hunter numbers and pheasants harvested per county. The report identifies a total of $257.3M spent (split between $90.8M by residents and $166.5M by nonresidents) by 127,733 hunters in the 2022 season.

Residents pay a fee of $35 for a small game license or $55 for a combination license (hunting and fishing), plus a $10 habitat stamp. Nonresidents can only get a 10-day small game license for $121, which consists of two five-day periods which must be identified at the time of purchase. You can change the dates as long as the five-day period hasn’t started, so SD-GF&P recommends setting your second period as the last week of the season and then moving it forward as needed.

2023-24 South Dakota Bird Hunting Seasons

Small Game SpeciesDatesDaily/Possession LimitsNotes
Pheasant – Youth Sept 30 – Oct 8, 20233/15See SD Website
Hunting opens daily at 10 am Central
Pheasant – Resident OnlyOct 14 – Oct 16, 20233/9See SD WebsiteHunting opens daily at 10 am Central
Pheasant – Traditional Oct 21, 2023 – Jan 31, 20243/15See SD WebsiteHunting opens daily at 10 am Central
Prairie Grouse (Sharptail and Prairie Chicken)Sept 16, 2023 – Jan 7, 20243/15 (includes Ruffed Grouse)Statewide
Ruffed GrouseSept 16, 2023 – Jan 7, 20243/15 (includes Prairie Grouse)Statewide
Sage GrouseClosed until survey numbers improve
Partridge (Gray and Chukar)Sept 16, 2023 – Jan 7, 20245/15Statewide*Note there are no wild chukar, but liberated birds may be encountered
Bobwhite QuailOct 21, 2023 – Jan 7, 20245/15Statewide
Mourning Dove Sept 1 – Nov 9, 202315/45Statewide.Birds can only be shot while in flight. Migratory Bird Certification required
Common SnipeSept 1 – Oct 31, 20235/15Statewide
CrowSept 1 – Oct 31, 2023UnlimitedStatewide
Cottontail RabbitSept 1, 2023 – Feb 29, 202410/30Statewide
Tree SquirrelSept 1, 2023 – Feb 29, 20245/15Statewide

*The bird hunting season dates, game bird species available, and other information is subject to change. The article may not reflect this. Please visit South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks 2023 abstract for the most up-to-date information on bird hunting in New Mexico. This information was last updated on August 25, 2023.

A dog retrieves a pheasant in South Dakota while hunting

Ring-Necked Pheasant

At the end of the day, South Dakota pheasant hunting is why hunters from all corners of the country assemble there in November and December. Look for pheasants all over the state in croplands, wetlands, shelterbelts, and grasslands. Be mindful of other hunters and respect anyone who arrives at “your” spot first. The numbers show that there are plenty of birds for everyone, so spreading out is important to maximize both success and enjoyment.

Consider a late-season pheasant hunt if you want to challenge your skills with extra-wily roosters and likely inclement weather. You’ll trade the crowds for a more difficult yet rewarding hunting trip.

South Dakota offers a youth pheasant season, a resident-only season, and a traditional season that extends from late October through January.

A sharp-tailed grouse in South Dakota

Prairie Grouse 

In South Dakota, sharp-tailed grouse and greater prairie-chickens are combined in the regulations as prairie grouse. As the name suggests, the prairie and landscapes nearby are their primary habitat. Later into the season, prairie grouse organize into larger coveys and become much harder to approach with more eyeballs on the lookout and more experience in avoiding hunters. They can spend their time in croplands and near fields, but most of their time is spent in open grasslands. 

The 2023 season starts September 16 and ends January 7. The daily bag limit is 3 in combination with any ruffed grouse taken. 

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed grouse might not be the reason most folks go bird hunting in South Dakota. Still, they can be found in huntable numbers in specific regions that offer suitable habitat, especially aspen stands. 

The 2023 season starts September 16 and ends January 7. The daily bag limit is 3 in combination with any prairie grouse taken. 

Mourning Dove 

Mourning dove populations run high in South Dakota, and their preferred habitat covers much of the state. Hunting doves comes with a few extra rules, such as a migratory bird certification, magazine limits, and an on-the-wing shooting restriction. For more information, check the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department website. 

The season runs from September 1 to November 9, with a daily bag limit of 15. 

Other Species for Bird Hunting in South Dakota 

Even though most hunters come to South Dakota for the pheasant and prairie grouse, bird hunting in South Dakota is not limited to these hallmark species. Coveys of Huns can be found in agricultural areas, and bobwhite quail can be encountered at the extreme north end of their range in the southeast corner of the state. While the regulations mention a season for chukar, South Dakota has no wild chukar populations—just the chance of encountering a liberated bird from a game preserve or dog trainer.

Upland bird licensing fees for Wisconsin

License*ResidentNon-resident
Habitat Stamp$10$25
Small Game (two 5-day periods)$121
Combination (small game and fishing)$55
Senior Combination$40
Small Game$33
One-day Small Game$12
Youth Small Game, ages 12-17$5
Youth Small Game, ages 12-17 (two 5-day periods)$10
State Migratory Bird Certificate$5$5

*These fees were last updated on August 25, 2023, and may not reflect any changes since that date. For the most up-to-date information, visit the SDGFP website.

South Dakota Hunter Safety Course and Dog Training

South Dakota offers a free-of-charge HuntSAFE hunter education course available in both online and in-person formats. The course is open to hunters of all ages but is only required for hunters under 16 years old. 

Blaze orange is not required when small game hunting in South Dakota, but wearing blaze orange is always recommended for the safety of you and your hunting party.

The season dates for training your dog on public land in South Dakota are August 1 to April 14. Wild birds can only be used for training (locating, pursuing, and/or pointing) from August 1 to the Friday before the third Saturday in September. Notably, only four dogs may be trained on public land per day, and the dogs must be owned by the person conducting the training. 

Related Conservation and Non-Profit Organizations for South Dakota Bird Hunting

Pheasants Forever

Quail Forever

Ruffed Grouse Society

North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association

The bird hunting season dates, game bird species available, and other information are subject to change. The article may not reflect this. Please visit the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department website for the most up-to-date information on bird hunting in the state.

View Comments (2)
    • Good observation Jeff. We list the species because the state has an officially listed season as hunters may encounter pen-raised chukar while hunting which can be legal harvested. This past season dates ran September 15th to January 6th.

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