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Panel to take up pheasant proposal

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PIERRE -- Tough weather and tough finances have combined for fewer pheasant hunters in South Dakota this fall. Now they might be getting some additional inducement to head to the fields.

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For those hunters fortunate enough to see enough birds, they might be allowed to take five pheasants a day starting this weekend, rather than the standard daily limit of three.

The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission plans to consider an emergency rule change Thursday afternoon during its meeting in Pierre. The proposed change would allow hunters to kill five pheasants per day from Saturday, Dec. 5, through the final day of the regular season Jan. 3.

The possession limit also would increase to 25 pheasants per hunter from the current 15.

The 2009 season has been difficult for hunters in many areas because of wet conditions and late harvests of crops. Sales of licenses for pheasant hunters are down somewhat across the board, according to the most current report available Monday.

This year's sales of nonresident small-game licenses stands at 87,088, compared to 90,902 at the same point one year ago.

South Dakota residents, meanwhile, have purchased 33,169 small-game licenses and 43,614 combination licenses so far this year, compared to 34,616 and 44,064, respectively, last year at this time.

State Wildlife Division biologists said Monday it's difficult to estimate how many more pheasants might be taken by hunters during the remaining month of the season under the bigger bag limit.

They said hunters appear to average about 100,000 pheasants per week after the initial nine days of the season, when pheasants and hunters alike are the most plentiful. They also said they only have anecdotes at this point about how many fewer pheasants have been taken this year because of the difficult farming conditions.

A traditional school of thought among many South Dakota hunters is that shooting more roosters will help increase the chances for winter survival by hens. That hasn't been proven true, according to division director Tony Leif.

"There is no science to support that school of thought," Leif said. "I was able to document in my early days with the department that roosters have higher survival than hens in severe winters. The enhanced survival comes from a larger body size, not from a competitive advantage over hens."

The proposal for the larger bag limits came from the Wildlife Division.

The commission's discussion of the proposed emergency rule is scheduled as the first item of business Thursday at 1 p.m. The meeting is at the Ramkota River Centre in Pierre.

The commission is holding its regular monthly meeting there Thursday and Friday.

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