Pheasant season awaits; hunters ready for changes
HARRISBURG — Even though pheasant production has been trimmed, hunters heading afield this fall might not notice much difference in the number of pheasants they flush.
The Game Commission still plans to release about 170,000 pheasants, a modest reduction from the goal of 200,000 pheasants in recent years. And nearly all of those birds are being released on public lands, which have the best hunter access and pheasant habitat, and highest harvest rates.
Additionally, with a new, interactive stocking map available at www.pgc.pa.gov, it’s easier than ever for hunters to find out where and when pheasants were released.
Pheasant season kicked off Oct. 7, with the one-week junior hunt, then opens statewide on Oct. 21.
All adult and senior license holders who hunt pheasants in 2017-18 seasons are required to purchase a pheasant permit in addition to their general hunting license. The permit, which costs $26.90, is not required for junior license holders.
In recent years, the Game Commission strived annually to raise and release at least 200,000 pheasants, and regularly exceeded that number.
To enhance efficiencies in producing pheasants, the agency closed two of its four pheasant farms. However, the agency increased production on the remaining two. The Game Commission expects to release about 170,000 farm-raised pheasants in 2017-18.
The Game Commission also has adjusted its stocking strategies to provide the best chances the pheasant released will wind up in hunters’ game bags. The agency has eliminated stocking birds on most private farms in the Hunter Access Program .
Studies have shown the lowest pheasant harvest rates come from these properties. And in 2016, 14 percent of the Game Commission’s pheasants were released on Hunter Access farms.
These birds now will be stocked on game lands and other public lands, which have the best hunter access and pheasant habitat, and highest harvest rates.
State game lands and other public properties to be stocked with pheasants now are showcased on an interactive map, available to view at www.pgc.pa.gov. The map is found on the Pheasant Allocation page of the Game Commission’s website, and can easily be accessed under Quick Clicks on the website’s homepage.
The interactive map not only shows the properties where pheasants will be stocked, it allows the user to zoom in on properties to view potential pheasant hunting areas, even parking lots. By clicking on the property, users can learn the total number of pheasants released there last year, as well as the number of releases, to get an idea of what’s happening there.
It’s a valuable tool for pheasant hunters, especially those looking to explore new areas, said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans.
“There’s never been an easier way for pheasant hunters to scout potential hotspots in putting together a plan for an action-packed day afield,” Burhans said. “If knowing where to go has been an obstacle for anyone wanting to experience all that pheasant hunting in Pennsylvania has to offer, this map breaks through it in a big way.”
While the Game Commission has successfully restored wild pheasants where prime habitat exists within Wild Pheasant Recovery Areas, pheasant hunting statewide is possible only through the release of propagated birds.
The Game Commission’s more than 100-year-old pheasant program produces the largest number of pheasants available to hunters.
But with annual costs of the program escalating to $4.7 million in recent years, the agency made dramatic changes to the propagation program to reduce expenditures, generate critical revenue and maintain the quality of propagated pheasants.
The plan worked. The closure of two pheasant farms midway through the fiscal year reduced the programs costs to $3.7 million in 2016-17. And those costs are expected to come down further in 2017-18. One important cost-saving change to the program is the shift to purchasing day-old chicks from a private vendor, eliminating the need to carry over a breeding flock or maintain hatchery operations.
And with the new pheasant permit, hunters have a chance to directly support the program by providing funding to help pay for it.
The pheasant permit is required, in addition to a general hunting license, for all adult and senior hunters, resident or nonresident, who pursue pheasants. Junior hunters do not need a permit to hunt pheasants.
The permit costs $26.90 and must be signed and carried while hunting for pheasants.
New revenue generated from sales of pheasant hunting permits could help support future fall releases of about 200,000 pheasants, which could be accomplished through modest infrastructure investments.
While there have been changes since last year within the Game Commission’s pheasant program, and there is new requirement for pheasant hunters to obtain a permit, what hasn’t changed is the thrill pheasant hunting provides.
Wading through waist-high grass on a frosty, sun-splashed autumn morning, and bringing a shotgun to the shoulder as a cackling rooster erupts from cover, mere steps away, is an experience like none other, Burhans said.
“Those perfect fall days afield in Pennsylvania really make you appreciate how lucky we are to have the opportunity to hunt pheasants,” Burhans said. “And I’m proud of the role the Game Commission has played in perpetuating this tradition and ensuring it will endure.”