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Pheasant opener fizzles

Bret Mattice, from Eden Valley, Minnesota, a junior at Dakota Wesleyan University, tries his luck pheasant hunting on Saturday. Mattice hunted at Long Lake State Public Shooting Area in Hanson County. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Opening weekend bird counts were better than average in southeast and south central South Dakota.

From Davison to Lyman counties, the average bird count was one per hunter on opening weekend, while northeastern and western South Dakota saw fewer than one bird per hunter.

While the northeast region — which includes Day, McPherson and Edmunds counties — saw a count of 0.5 birds per hunter, South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks (GF&P) Secretary Kelly Hepler was optimistic about the weekend that drew loads of people to the state.

"Traditions around the South Dakota pheasant opener are special," Hepler said in a press release. "Whether it's a first-time hunter harvesting their first rooster, or an avid outdoorsman meeting up with long-time friends and sharing a hunt, this is what we live for and why visitors flock to our state."

Average bird counts were down compared to last year's opening weekend report. In 2016, GF&P reported Lyman and Tripp county hunters bringing in two birds per hunter and portions of the southeastern region bringing in 0.5 to 1.5 birds per hunter on opening weekend. In 2015, Lyman County average 1.5 to two birds per hunter.

Pheasant season began Saturday and runs through Jan. 7.