PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission listened Wednesday to six people talk about what they saw as pluses or minuses of expanding pheasant hunting season this year and letting hunters shoot more roosters next year.

The commission, which is trying to turn around a downward trend in the numbers of resident and nonresident hunters, plans to take more testimony at 9 a.m. CT Thursday (September 3) before deciding what to do.

Hunters who wrote letters and emails to the commission ahead of the meeting had opposed the proposal roughly twice as often as those who had written in favor, according to a KELOLAND News count.

The commission for this season is considering a standard 10 a.m. opening time for the entire season and running the season through January 31. For 2021, the commission is looking at allowing hunters to take four roosters apiece starting December 1.

The current regulations call for a noon opening time the first eight days of the season, followed by a switch to 10 a.m. The season normally ends the first Sunday of January. Hunters are allowed three roosters apiece daily.

Bill Ferguson of Hermosa told commissioners Wednesday that he opposed all the changes. He said the pheasant population on his family farm in the Winner area has been in a 20-year decline and was finally starting to turn around. He said the population generally was still struggling.

Regarding the brood-count survey that the state Game, Fish and Parks Department stopped this summer, ending a practice that had been used since 1948, Ferguson said: “It looks like science has been thrown out the window in favor of revenue.”

He suggested instead the department should do the brood routes against but shouldn’t publish the survey results during downturns. He said killing more roosters would affect protected hens too, citing a department-published book that noted hens have been illegally taken approximately 10 percent of the time.

Nathan Sanderson of Pierre, executive director for the South Dakota Retailers Association and its approximately 4,000 mostly ‘mom and pop shops’, said he drafted the pheasant-habitat work group’s final report. Sanderson said the retailers favored the changes.

Casey Griffith of Presho from Snake Den Lodge spoke against the four-bag limit and the longer season, saying the moves were poorly timed because of low population and an increasing loss of habitat in the next few years as farm ground comes out of the Conservation Reserve Program.

Nancy Hilding of Black Hawk, representing the Prairie Hills Audubon Society, said the pheasant was a non-native species that competes with greater prairie chickens, a native species. Hilding said she doesn’t object to taking more pheasants but wants more aggressive hunting of pheasants in native grounds of greater prairie chickens and reduced hunting of prairie chickens.

Brad Swofford from Branson, Missouri, supported the proposed changes. So did George Vandel of Pierre, although he noted the noon start on opening day was “a cool tradition” that might be worth keeping. As for pheasants suffering from hunting pressure from a season through January, Vandel said there needs to be cold, winter and snow to drive birds out of cover, and those conditions don’t favor hunting.

Christine Sandvik of Rapid City said she likes to watch and photograph pheasants and current regulations already provide good opportunities. Kevin Schumaker, a lodge owner from Howard, said the commission should ban road hunting the first Sunday in January.