PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Some substantial changes might be coming for South Dakota’s main season for hunting pheasants.

The state Game, Fish and Parks Commission proposed Thursday that:

The first week of the main season that starts the third Saturday of October each year would open two hours earlier, at 10 a.m., similar to the rest of the main season, starting this October. The 10 a.m. start would also apply to the three-day resident-only season held on the weekend before the main season.

The season would run deeper, until January 31. It currently ends the first Sunday of January. Licenses already run through the end of January.

Starting December 1, 2021, hunters would be allowed to take four roosters apiece per day, up from three, through the end of the season. The possession limit also would increase.

Neighboring states vary when their pheasant seasons close. “Some are similar to where we are right now, and some are later,” said Tom Kirschenmann, state Wildlife Division director.

The commission will take public comments in writing or in person by teleconference. The public hearing is Wednesday, September 2, at 2 p.m. CT. The commission would reach a decision afterward.

The commission has been working with Governor Kristi Noem, a hunter and a past owner of a pheasant preserve.

Last month Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Kelly Hepler announced that his staff wouldn’t conduct the July-August brood route survey this year.

The survey had been a fixture since 1949. Hepler said the population estimate hadn’t been used in pheasant season decisions.

The department also is helping fund an expanded marketing program with the state Department of Tourism that aims for drawing more pheasant hunters.

The changes come as the numbers of hunters declined in recent years: Residents went from 65,135 in 2015, to 47,401 in 2019; and non-residents dropped from 84,901 to 60,211. The estimated harvest fell, too, from 1,255,878 to 829,501.

The commission received reports Thursday from GFP upland game biologist Travis Runia and Iowa State assistant professor Adam Janke about population estimates and from several state officials about marketing and promotion.

 “At the end of the day, true abundance is difficult to estimate,” Runia told the commission.

He said the 110 routes are each about 30 miles long and have largely been the same for decades. GFP staff check them between July 25 and August 15, when broods are still mostly with hens.

The best mornings tend to have heavy dew, forcing birds onto hay bales and roadsides where they can dry their feathers in the sun. “Of course, we don’t control the weather,” Runia said.

He noted that dry years can lead to under-estimates, and some routes are done three times while others get one check, depending upon how dewy the morning is. A late wheat harvest, acres that aren’t planted and traffic can affect the index too, he said.

Janke is leading an eight-state project, including South Dakota, to better understand what affects pheasant population estimates.