By Scott Smith 

The state bird of South Dakota is the ring-necked pheasant. Introduced from China in the 1800s to give Americans something exotic to shoot at after decimating native gamebird species like the sage grouse and prairie chicken, the ring-necked pheasant is widely hunted across the Plains states. 

In South Dakota, 121,331 hunters killed 1.1 million pheasants in the 2020 season, which runs from mid-October through January.  

What kind of state honors a foreign species with such status, only to raise the bird for slaughter by the millions? 

The same state that this year has instituted a “nest predator bounty program” that invites children under the age of 18 to kill raccoons, red foxes, skunks, badgers and possums. The program offers kids an entire month – March – to kill the animals using snares and leg-hold traps without competition from adult trappers. As a further inducement, the children receive $10 for each tail from their victims they submit. 

A concerned supporter of Friends of Animals who lives in South Dakota alerted FoA to this “atrocity about to occur in South Dakota…for the sake of pheasant farmers,” attaching a clipping of the news item published in the Black Hills Pioneer (Read the online version here.) The writer adds, “Although the article doesn’t mention it, kids can leave animals in traps for up to three days. This is under the pretext of getting kids outdoors in nature!” 

Our South Dakota correspondent is referring to a dirty little secret the hunting lobby doesn’t like talking about. South Dakota has seen its pheasant population fall steadily in recent years, suffering lower brood counts resulting mainly from poor weather and reduced habitat for the birds. 

As a result, more than 100 in-state commercial captive game bird breeders and additional out-of-state breeders are licensed to keep the pheasant slaughter pipeline supplied, reports the Star Tribune. The state’s largest pheasant hatchery, Gisi Pheasant Farms in Ipswich, has produced upward of 800,000 roosters and hens annually in recent years. The article adds, “studies have shown the survival rates of stocked birds are ‘abysmally low.’”  

In an effort to give cover for these farmed-raised birds and to keep the dwindling number of this introduced species alive long enough to reproduce before shooting them, South Dakota instituted the nest predator bounty program in 2019. The first season drew more than 5,500 participants; 20% of those were under age 18. In 2021, 29% of participants were under 18. South Dakota’s Game, Fish, and Parks Outdoor Campus education staff have been hosting trapping classes, and they’re offering weekly giveaways, says the Pioneer article. “The giveaway offers youth under age 18 the chance to enter a drawing to win three live traps, a knife, and educational booklets.” 

The nest predator bounty program is part of Gov. Kristi Noem’s Second Century Initiative, says Pioneer writer Wendi Pitlick. The objective is to enhance pheasant and duck nesting success, while exposing outdoorsmen and women to trapping and reducing predator numbers. 

Pitlick adds that the agency paid out $536,420 for more than 53,000 tails of raccoons, red foxes, skunks, badgers and possums that were turned in from April 1 through July 1, 2021. Of those animals, 48,951 were trapped and 4,715 were killed by hunting. 

The problem is, “Even though the state has no scientific data to support the claim, it promotes the predator-bounty program on the ‘ringneck outlook’ webpage by claiming that ‘local duck and pheasant nest success has been positively influenced,’” reports the South Dakota News Watch

Which brings us back to South Dakota’s misguided youth, who are being indoctrinated to wantonly trap and brutally kill small predators for trophy and small treasure, all in a shameful attempt to recruit more hunters to shoot more birds. 

South Dakota has the highest percentage of paid hunting license holders per capita, 24.1% in 2019, according to this state-by-state survey by But like virtually every other state, it is losing hunters, particularly among younger residents. According to The Associated Press, the state sold 26,000 fewer hunting licenses in 2019, leading to a revenue loss of $1 million revenue loss. Money from hunting sales contributes to half of the budget of the State Department of Game, Fish and Parks. 

Friends of Animals has been fighting for the rights of wild animals to lead lives without cruelty and exploitation for the past 65 years. For her cruel attempts to foster a continuing culture of sadistic killing, especially among impressionable youth, FoA gives a resounding, horrified Jeer to Governor Noem. (Add your voice by calling her office at 605-773-3212 or emailing her via this form.) 

And as international advocacy organization that has long based its educational and legal campaigns on science and fact-driven research, FoA must also point out the plethora of research that documents how children who abuse animals at a young age “is a well-establishedearly indicator of future assault, murder, rape, partner abuse and child abuse,” As Discover Magazine puts it, certainly “not all kids who harm animals will go on to hurt people — but some will.” 

“There are a variety of reasons why young people engage in violence against animals, including being a victim of abuse and lacking healthy coping mechanisms. There are also children who exhibit sadistic tendencies and seem to enjoy causing suffering. Kids who torture or kill animals often demonstrate antisocial personality traits. This includes a lack of empathy, remorse, and guilt. These children also might be prone to pathological lying and juvenile delinquency,” Discover reveals, adding these chilling statistics: “25 percent of aggressive inmates had committed multiple acts of animal abuse as children. Forty-five percent of school shooters had histories of alleged animal cruelty, and 21 percent of serial murderers admitted to childhood animal abuse.”  

We at Friends of Animals fear for the thousands of innocent prey species taken from their families and habitats. We also fear for the children of South Dakota, who are being indoctrinated into a culture that glorifies killing innocent animals by strangling them with snares or crushing their bodies in leg-hold traps to die a slow, tortuous death. Worse, they are being financially rewarded to do so. 

“If there is anything you can do to stop this cruel project, I would really appreciate it,” our friend in South Dakota implores.  

Scott Smith is Communications Director for Friends of Animals, based in Darien, CT.