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MERCER: Pheasants flying to a new century

PIERRE — This year will be season 100 for pheasant hunting in South Dakota.

The first, in 1919, lasted one day.

Five hundred residents and 500 non-residents bought licenses. They killed 200 birds that Oct. 30.

The 1920 season started Nov. 4. It lasted two days.

One thousand residents and 1,000 non-residents were licensed. They killed 1,000 birds.

The 1921 season went seven days. The Nov. 21 start was the latest on record for South Dakota.

That year 10,000 residents and 1,000 non-residents got licenses. They killed 7,000 birds.

Pheasant hunting became a big deal.

For many years, the starting dates varied widely those weeks of autumn: Sometimes November, sometimes September, sometimes October.

The earliest opener came Sept. 20, 1944.

The current tradition of opening the season on the third Saturday of October took hold in 1961.

It's been the third Saturday since.

The state Game, Fish & Parks Commission added a youth season in 1999. It opens the first Saturday of October and runs five days.

Hunters younger than age 18 are allowed to hunt during the youth season. Adults who aren't carrying firearms must accompany them.

The commission began a residents-only season in 2001. It opens the second Saturday of October and runs three days. It's available only on public lands.

The residents-only season resulted from South Dakota's development of public walk-in areas.

Private landowners lease walk-in areas to state government.

Getting hunters to the walk-in areas required mapping.

The Game, Fish & Parks Department published an atlas that has a county on each page.

The atlas helped hunters, including non-residents.

Within a few years, non-residents hogged many of the walk-in areas on opening weekend.

The commission responded by creating the resident-only season.

The purpose was to give residents the first shots of the season, at least on public lands, the weekend before the traditional opening day. It seems to work.

The greatest year of pheasant hunting might have been 1963.

There were 212,150 hunters licensed, with 143,650 residents and 68,500 non-residents. They killed nearly 3.1 million birds.

The 2002 season marked the first time non-residents outnumbered residents.

There were 70,822 hunters from within South Dakota and 74,874 from outside the state's borders.

That's been the case since.

Non-residents broke the 100,000 mark in the 2007 and 2008 and 2010 seasons.

That was a period when hunters had big success. The 2007 season saw 2.1 million roosters killed.

The 2013 season marked the fewest resident hunters since 1943. There were 57,647 in 2013. By comparison, there were 74,413 non-residents.

The 2013 harvest was still nearly 1 million roosters.

That December, Gov. Dennis Daugaard held a habitat summit in Huron. The event began a renewed emphasis on land management for pheasants.

This spring, state Game, Fish & Parks Department officials will bring another package of recommendations to the commission.

Season 100 opens Oct. 20. It is Daugaard's eighth and final year to host the governor's hunt.

The centennial in 2019 will be the new governor's first hunt.

Imagine the shouts: "Rooster!"