By The Associated Press

YANKTON, S.D. (AP) -- A fall harvest delayed by wet weather could make it harder for hunters to find the birds in the opening weekend of South Dakota's pheasant hunting season.

The noon start on Saturday will put thousands of hunters in the field for a season that runs through Jan. 3.

"It could be a tough opener," said Sam Schelhaas, a conservation officer for the state Department of Game, Fish and Parks in Yankton. "There's still a lot of corn and (soybeans) for the birds to sit in during the day. But later in the day, when they're venturing out, I expect hunters will have more success."

The weather should be cooperative. Mostly clear skies and temperatures in the 40s and 50s are forecast.

The GF&P estimated a pheasant population of 9.9 million birds before the 2008 season. A little more than 1.9 million were killed by hunters.

A summer brood survey by the GF&P counted 6.3 pheasants per mile, down from the 8.5 birds per mile in 2008 but still the fourth highest number in 45 years and above the 10-year average of 5.58.

Officials said cool temperatures and rain in late May and early June may have reduced the hatching success.

Schelhaas said the lower pheasant count should be taken in context.

"We're still above average," he noted. "There are still a lot of pheasants around."

Grant McCann expects a busy first weekend at a lodge and guide service on 600 acres near Springfield.

"If anything, there are more birds in our area," said McCann, whose second-year business is booked through the first three days of the season.

He said unharvested crops will affect hunting early in the season.

"Overall, it may frustrate hunters right away," he said. "But by the middle of November, things should be back to normal."

The 79-day season in 2008 drew 75,831 resident hunters and 100,349 nonresidents. The GF&P calculated a $219.6 million benefit to the state economy.


Information from: Yankton Press and Dakotan,

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

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