Larger daily limit? Longer season?

Those are both pheasant hunting possibilities under new proposals by the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department Commission.

The commission accepted the proposals during its regular monthly meeting, which was held Thursday and Friday via teleconference and video livestream. Two of the major changes include extending the season’s end date to either Jan. 15 or 31, and increasing the daily bag limit from three to four from Dec. 1 to the end of the season.

“As we were having several conversations for several months over marketing, getting more people engaged in pheasant hunting, one of the things we talked about was looking at the current season structure,” said Tom Kirschenmann, GF&P director of wildlife during the meeting.

Kirschenmann pointed out that South Dakota’s small-game licenses are valid through Jan. 31.

The proposals can be reviewed for 60 days and will be up for public commentary in future meetings. They could be finalized later this year, with the season extension potentially going into effect during this upcoming season. The increased bag limit wouldn’t start, officials said, until the next season, beginning fall/winter 2021-22.

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GF&P Commissioner Russell Olson asked whether winter habitat and nesting cover would be overly impacted with more potential hunting later into the season. Kirschenmann said those concerns have been considered during past discussions in extending seasons. He added that when pheasants use thicker cover during the extreme cold and snowy conditions, hunter participation may decline during tougher weather.

“If conditions are that tough, and the wind is that tough, and it’s almost blizzarding, there will be very few people out there exploring and trying to hunt pheasants,” he said.

Another proposal is to modify shooting hours to begin at 10 a.m. all season. The current format allows hunters to start at noon during the first week of the regular season and then 10 a.m. the remainder of the season. That could also be changed for this upcoming fall season.

It was also during the meeting that a presentation was held to show a multi-state study based in Iowa State University investigating the outside influences of a pheasant roadside survey, such as South Dakota’s now-defunct August brood survey.

Travis Runia, GF&P upland game biologist, and Adam Janke, an assistant professor at Iowa State and primary investigator, shared with the commission the ongoing work.

“Specifically weather conditions such as dew,” Runia said in an interview with the Mitchell Republic Friday morning. “The main point is if we have a year with good dew, it’s really hard to compare that survey result to a year that we don’t have those same conditions. So what these researchers are hoping to do is get a better understanding of that relationship and make our data more comparable from year to year.”

Thirteen states are involved in the study. It could improve how states conduct population estimates of wild animals. Runia showed a presentation during the meeting that suggests the August roadside survey results and individual hunter harvest don’t always align, meaning some years the preseason survey shows few pheasants but hunters claimed success was high after the conclusion of the season.

Runia said South Dakota is one of the funding sources, and he believes that future recommendations from the project could “facilitate a discussion on whether we should reimplement our roadside survey.”

In June, the GF&P Commission agreed to discontinue South Dakota’s roadside brood survey that’s been conducted each year since 1949. Several letters of public input were submitted to the commission prior to the July meeting stating disagreement with the decision.

The decision to discontinue the state’s annual brood count was made after GF&P Secretary Kelly Hepler explained in June the survey does not impact the season structure or harvest limits. And, he said, it will “take away” from the state’s new pheasant hunting marketing campaign, costing $700,000 in its first year. During the meeting in which the commission announced the brood count was ending, there was no discussion on the Iowa State project.

On Thursday, Commission Chairman Gary Jensen, of Rapid City, said he was pleased to share with the public South Dakota’s participation in the study, which runs through 2021.

Commissioner Doug Sharp, of Watertown, added his appreciation for the study.

“I’ve been very disappointed in some of our partners out there,” Sharp said, “that would suggest the reason we’re taking a look at this is to deceive the public if we don’t think the public is smart enough to figure this out, and this is all due to marketing. What it is due to is we want accurate data kicked out about what our pheasant numbers are. If there’s a better way to do that, I think it’s incumbent upon us to pursue that and maybe go away from a few things that worked 40 years ago but maybe don’t work today.”