South Dakota pheasant season should be extended through Jan. 31, commission says

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota’s 2020 pheasant hunting season should be expanded to run through January 31, 2021, and shooting hours should start at 10 a.m. local time for all of it, the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission decided Thursday.

The main season opens Saturday, October 17. It had been scheduled to run through Sunday, January 3.

The shooting-hours change would also apply to the residents-only season for pheasants that starts Saturday, October 10. Shooting hours traditionally have opened at noon for the residents-only season and the first eight days of the main season, before switching to 10 a.m. for the rest of the season.

The changes passed 7-0 and now go to the Legislature’s Rules Review Committee for a vote September 15 on whether they take effect.

The commission however rejected two other proposed changes Thursday.

The commission decided against allowing pheasant hunters to keep a fourth rooster per day starting December 1, 2021. The commission also decided against extending the hunting seasons for other upland game birds through January 31.

Commissioner Doug Sharp of Watertown said hunters could have taken as many as 500,000 more roosters during South Dakota’s 2019 season without affecting prospects for 2020. One rooster can breed with as many as 10 hens.

Commissioner Robert Whitmyre of Webster presented data that indicated hunters in South Dakota were killing smaller and smaller percentages of available roosters during each of the past three decades.

“We are ending the season with all this opportunity,” Whitmyre said. “All of these efforts we are proposing are trying to get more birds in the bag for the hunters who are out there.”

Chairman Gary Jensen of Rapid City said several hundreds of written comments that pheasant hunters sent to the commission generally didn’t reflect that a half-million more roosters could have been killed. “Somehow we need to get that concept communicated better,” Jensen said.

The commission is trying to counter declining numbers of licensed pheasant hunters. 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 for the 2015 season, to 829,501 for the 2019 season.

State Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Kelly Hepler told the commission his department’s priority was to extend the season through the end of January.

The commissioners voted 6-1 against allowing the fourth pheasant. “I don’t think biology supports it, but I’d be willing to leave it at three birds, just to support what our hunters want,” commissioner Jon Locken of Bath said.

Sharp said he is open to staying with tradition, but added it’s another instance of putting sentiment ahead of science. “I have shown people this data and they don’t believe it,” Sharp said. 

The commission also adopted the ‘three-splash’ option for duck hunters. The four-year experiment, which would include Nebraska, starts in 2021. “This is a great opportunity to try something new,” Locken said.

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