State proposes extending pheasant hunting season
State officials are proposing to change South Dakota’s pheasant hunting season in an effort to draw more hunters to participate.
The Game, Fish and Parks Commission will take up a proposal in September to lengthen the pheasant hunting season, extend the shooting hours during the first week of the season and increase the rooster bag limit during the final months of the season.
The changes are part of a larger push that began earlier this year to boost marketing of South Dakota’s pheasant hunting season, with the goal of increasing resident and non-resident participants in the state’s pheasant hunting by 10% in three years.
Between 2014 and 2018, the number of resident pheasant hunters declined from 61,776 to 53,577 and non-resident hunters declined from 79,195 to 69,018, according to GFP data.
Proposed changes originated from discussions about declining hunting license sales that began last fall. The pheasant hunting marketing work group formed in February and included members from GFP, South Dakota Tourism Department, Governor’s Office, South Dakota Retailers Association, South Dakota Wildlife Federation and Second Century Habitat Fund Board.
One change has already resulted from the work group’s discussions. The Commission agreed with GFP leaders during its June meeting, without taking public comment, to end the pheasant brood survey that has been held annually in July and August since 1949.
GFP Secretary Kelly Hepler told the Commission in June that the department doesn’t use the brood survey to manage the state’s pheasant population. South Dakota has better hunting conditions than other locations, but that message to hunters gets lost when the brood survey has a low bird count, he said.
Proposed hunting season changes
GFP staff is proposing changes to the pheasant hunting season to find ways to encourage more hunters to participate, Tom Kirschenmann, director of GFP’s wildlife division, told the Commission in July.
The GFP Commission is scheduled to vote on the proposed pheasant hunting season changes during its meeting on Sept. 2-3, which will include a public hearing on the proposals. The meeting is tentatively scheduled to be held at the Outdoor Campus West in Rapid City.
Proposed changes are:
Move the start time from noon to 10 a.m. during the resident-only pheasant season and the traditional pheasant season, beginning with the 2020 season;
Extend the pheasant hunting season to Jan. 31 instead of the current first Sunday in January, beginning with the 2020 season.
Increase the daily bag limit from three roosters to four roosters from Dec. 1 through the end of the season and increase the possession limit from 15 to 20 roosters after Dec. 1, beginning with the 2021 season.
To keep upland bird hunting seasons in alignment, the prairie grouse, quail and partridge hunting seasons will be extended to Jan. 31 to match the pheasant season.
Comments on the proposed changes can be submitted online at gfp.sd.gov/forms/positions or mailed to 523 E. Capitol Ave., Pierre, SD 57501. To be included in the public record, comments must include a full name and city of residence, and be submitted at least 72 hours before the public hearing on Sept. 2.
There isn’t a reason increasing the bag limit will negatively impact the pheasant population. South Dakota’s hunting season is roosters only and the state knows from its data in the spring that it’s going into the hunting season with plenty of roosters, Travis Runia, a senior upland game biologist with GFP, said.
The pheasant hunting seasons in Kansas and Nebraska go until the end of January and the season in North Dakota ends at the beginning of January, according to Kirschenmann. Kansas has a four bag limit and North Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota have three bag limits.
GFP Commissioner Doug Sharp of Watertown took issue in July with critics who say the state ended the brood survey as a marketing tactic. The Commission isn’t ending it to “deceive the public,” but instead it wants accurate data on the state’s pheasant population, which it can’t get due to too many variables in the brood survey, he said.
“We’re being responsible to take a hard look at this and how to better represent our true pheasant numbers to the world than what we have going on in the past several years,” Sharp said.
Ending the brood survey will eliminate a data set that extends back to the 1940s, but there’s no biological reason to continue it, Hepler told the Commission in June.
Kirschenmann agreed, saying that GFP has never changed the pheasant season or managed the species based on the brood survey. Pheasants aren’t like the state’s big game where decisions about the hunting season depend on the population.
“We have the flexibility and we have the luxury, quite honestly, of being more liberal on this and not have to have that definite data on a year-to-year basis to make management decisions on a season structure,” he told the Commission in June.
The work group supported ending the brood survey “to ensure that South Dakota is not unintentionally deterring hunters from coming to our state based on media headlines when we have years of low bird numbers,” Emily Kiel, senior adviser to Hepler, said during the Commission’s June meeting. The state’s rooster-to-hen ratio and the pheasant harvest data should be more visible instead to draw hunters, she said.
South Dakota is also participating in an Iowa State University multi-state evaluation of pheasant population estimates.
The “true abundance” of South Dakota’s pheasant population isn’t known, Runia told the Commission in July.
The brood survey relies on the assumption that a sample size represents the entire population, but there’s fluctuations based on things such as the amount of dew. The state also has a population estimate based on the post-hunt rooster-to-hen ratio. The two population estimates should correlate if its done correctly, but the state has been getting two different answers from the surveys and it was especially off for 2019, Runia said.
The state won’t have any population monitoring data after ending the brood survey, but it will continue to collect harvest information from hunters and count the winter rooster-to-hen ratio that’s done after the harvest to ensure there weren’t too many roosters harvested, Runia told the Argus Leader.
“There’s never been a time in history when we thought we were harvesting too many roosters,” Runia said.