South Dakota’s Public Access to Habitat Program Quickly Approaches 10,000 Acre Goal of New Hunting Opportunity

In August 2023, Pheasants Forever, in collaboration with South Dakota Game Fish and Parks, founded the Public Access to Habitat (PATH) program with a goal of expanding South Dakota’s habitat and hunting access by 10,000 acres in its first year. Six months later, the PATH program has enrolled 7,678 acres, with another 4,000 acres under negotiation. PATH program managers expect to surpass that goal in the coming weeks. 

With 17.8 huntable acres per licensed resident hunter, and some of the finest pheasant hunting in the country, South Dakota is a leader when it comes to developing unique partnerships between private and public entities with the goal of conservation and hunting access. PATH was created to help accelerate that model, and its immediate success is worthy of celebration. 

PATH provides first time enrollees a sign-up incentive of up to $25 per acre, paid in advance, in return for a minimum of 10 years of undisturbed habitat and access on private lands. This incentive for landowners is in addition to Game Fish and Park’s Walk-In Area program, and the inaugural year was made possible by a donation from onX Hunt. 

“PATH had all the ingredients to be a major success right out of the gate, and our enrollment during the first six months illustrates its immense value to landowners, wildlife, hunters, and rural communities in the pheasant capital,” said Matt Gottlob, Pheasant Forever state coordinator in South Dakota. 

This unique access model is timely, as small game hunting license sales in South Dakota are on the incline. And it isn’t just resident hunters taking advantage of the state’s impressive hunting access. Ryan Lewis of Lebanon, Missouri was drawn to South Dakota for its bird numbers and public access.

“I had heard about the PATH program from The Flush Podcast, and traveling to South Dakota was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” said Lewis. “I was able to hunt a PATH property and shoot my very first limit of wild pheasants. I had such a good time, and can’t wait to get back and do it again.”

To learn more about the PATH program, join Pheasants Forever and onX Hunt at Pheasant Fest, March 1-3, 2024 in Sioux Falls. Attendees can listen in on two Public Access to Habitat seminars, hosted by Ryan Callaghan on Friday at 5:30, and Saturday at 4:30. Panel members include Kevin Robling, South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department Secretary; Ben Brettingen, onX Hunt Wingshooting Manager; Sam Soholt with Public Land Tees; and Jake Hanson, Pheasant Forever’s Director of Development in South Dakota. A PATH Happy Hour will directly follow each discussion.

Additionally, the event will be raising funds for the next 10,00 acres of access in the Public Lands Pavilion. Each $25 donation will result in a new acre of public access.

About Pheasants Forever

Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever make up the nation’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to upland habitat conservation. This community of more than 400,000 members, supporters and partners is dedicated to the protection of our uplands through habitat improvement, public access, education and advocacy. A network of 754 local chapters spread across North America determine how 100 percent of their locally raised funds are spent — the only national conservation organization that operates through this grassroots structure. Since its creation in 1982, the organization has dedicated more than $1 billion to 580,000 habitat projects benefiting 26.5 million acres.

About onX

Founded in 2009, onX is a pioneer in digital outdoor navigation, developing software that helps inform, inspire, and empower outdoor recreationists. onX Hunt, onX Offroad, and onX Backcountry make up the company’s suite of apps which are built by explorers for explorers. Because off-the-beaten path experiences are at the heart of what onX does, the company also leads initiatives to protect and expand access to public land and promote stewardship opportunities. Learn more at


Molly Stoecklein

Growing up in the east, Molly’s first claim to fame was a 1998 New York State Ski Ballet Championship title. Since, she’s never lived far from the mountains and now calls Bozeman home. When she’s not heading up PR and Communications for onX, she’s out exploring on skis or bike, or with fly rod in hand.