Pennsylvania –-(Ammoland.com)- A memorable season in which more birds will be released statewide awaits Pennsylvania’s pheasant hunters. And as scary as it might seem, without a license-fee increase in the very near future, this might well be the last year the Game Commission releases pheasants for hunters.
The pheasant season kicks off Saturday, Oct. 8, with the start of the one-week season for junior hunters. Then on Saturday, Oct. 22, the season opens to hunters statewide. In total, about 240,000 pheasants – about 25,000 more than last year – are scheduled for release statewide for the 2016-17 seasons.
The increase is due to several factors that have come together for the benefit of hunters.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission has planned some changes to its pheasant-propagation program to cut costs. Instead of raising chicks from breeder pheasants at the Game Commission’s game farms, the agency in 2017 plans to begin purchasing day-old chicks from private propagators.
The move is expected to save more than $200,000 annually, but this year also contributes to an increased number of pheasants released, since birds that would have been kept as breeders instead can be released on public-hunting grounds.
Additionally, the Game Commission purchased about 15,000 day-old chicks this year in a test run to ensure its program could operate smoothly if it transitions to purchasing all chicks to be raised. Those birds will be released, as well. And while the agency took deliberate action to reduce production due to the anticipated increases from the release of breeder birds and the chicks that were purchased, this year experienced the highest hatch rate in recent memory.
All of this adds up to more pheasants afield in 2016-17.
“Against all odds, Pennsylvania’s pheasant hunters once again have plenty to be excited about this year,” said Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough. “It’s no secret the Game Commission has been navigating some rough financial waters; 17 years without one adjustment for inflation to our primary source of revenue – the hunting license – will do that.
“We have been forced as an agency to make many cuts to staff and programs, and moves to make the pheasant propagation program less costly are among these,” he said. “Fortunately for pheasant hunters, however, those moves will result this year in more ringnecks released statewide, adding even more excitement to some of the best hunting action around. But the future of pheasant hunting in Pennsylvania might not be as bright,” Hough said.
About 17,000 pheasants are scheduled for release for the weeklong junior-only season, which begins Oct. 8. Then, in mid-October several consecutive weekly releases of pheasants will begin, to be followed by a late-season release of hen pheasants.
The statewide pheasant season begins Oct. 22 and runs through Nov. 26, then reopens on Dec. 12, ending on the last day of February.
The additional releases of birds that were purchased as chicks or would have been maintained as breeding stock should be noticeable, said Robert C. Boyd, who oversees the Game Commission’s pheasant propagation program.
“These extra birds are being stocked during the second, third and fourth in-season releases, and the winter release,” Boyd said. “So while releases ahead of the junior season and statewide opener will continue to provide the typical early-season action, those who keep hunting through the season also are bound to encounter increased flushes and sustained opportunity to harvest pheasants,” Boyd said.
The best pheasant-hunting habitat and hunter access occur on more than 230 tracts of state game lands and other public lands under cooperative management with the Game Commission, and about 75 percent of the pheasants are stocked there. The remaining 25 percent are released on private lands enrolled in the Game Commission’s Hunter Access Program.
The Game Commission stocks pheasants as a service to its hunters. The program cost $4.3 million last year, but it has its benefits. Nearly 100,000 hunters participate in pheasant hunting in Pennsylvania, racking up nearly 400,000 hunter days and contributing $30 million to $40 million to the state's economy. And surveys have indicated nearly 80 percent of hunters support the pheasant stocking program.
A wealth of information on ring-necked pheasants, the Game Commission’s pheasant management program, and stockings statewide can be found at www.pgc.pa.gov by searching “pheasant allocation.”
Only roosters may be hunted in many WMUs, check Page 48 of the 2016-17 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest for details. The daily limit is two pheasants.
The digest is issued to all hunters at the time they buy their licenses, and also is available online through the Game Commission’s home page. Hunters also should note that pheasant hunting is closed in all Wild Pheasant Recovery Areas, where the Game Commission is attempting to restore self-sustaining wild pheasant populations. Maps of Wild Pheasant Recovery Areas begin on Page 50 of the digest.
Hough said the agency remains committed to its pheasant program, which celebrated 100 years in 2015, despite hard times financially. As revenues continue to decline, however, it’s uncertain how the program might change, he said.
“But this year, for certain, pheasant hunters have a lot to look forward to,” Hough said.
PHEASANT HARVEST RATES
In recent years, the Game Commission has released more than 200,000 pheasants annually on state game lands and other properties open to public hunting. And the agency wants as many of those birds as possible to end up in hunters’ game bags. In working toward this end, the Game Commission last year conducted a study into existing pheasant harvest rates.
The agency last studied pheasant harvest rates in 1998, when the harvest rate was about 50 percent for Game Commission-raised pheasants released within or just before the hunting seasons. For last year’s study, agency staff affixed leg bands to 5,566 pheasants. Some of the bands carried a $100 reward, which typically results in nearly a 100-percent reporting rate, increasing the study’s efficiency.
Banded pheasants were released in all Wildlife Management Units, except WMU 5D. Each band had its own identification number, as well as a toll free number to call and report. Banded pheasants were placed in labeled crates to identify where and when they were released. Reports were accepted for all banded birds, regardless of their cause of death.
In all, 2,073 banded pheasants were recovered, with the reporting rate for non-reward bands coming in at nearly 68 percent. Forty-three pheasants were found dead and reported. The cause of death was reported as unknown for 24 of them, while 14 were killed on roads and five were killed by predators. The remaining pheasants were harvested by hunters.
Although most band recoveries occurred on the same property where pheasants were released, one pheasant released in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area was recovered in New Jersey, and road-killed pheasants were recovered up to 10 miles from their stocking locations.
Overall, the pheasant harvest rate was 49.1 percent.
Males were harvested at a higher rate (53.8 percent) than females (41.1 percent), perhaps due to hunter selectivity.
Harvest rates were higher on game lands (48.7 percent) and other public properties (50.7 percent) than they were on privately owned Hunter Access properties (37.3 percent). This could result from greater hunter effort on public property. Harvest rates were lowest for pheasants released for the Junior Hunt (40.6 percent), likely due to hunter inexperience, and that pheasants need to survive two weeks or more to make it to the regular season.
Similarly, the harvest rate of pheasants stocked preseason was 46.7 percent.
Harvest rates were highest and nearly identical for the first three in-season releases, where the harvest rate averaged 52.9 percent. More pheasants were harvested on Saturdays (36.1 percent) and Fridays (26.8 percent), with the smallest percent taken on Tuesdays (6.1 percent). Harvest rates also varied depending on day of week pheasants were stocked. During the four in-season stockings, harvests were highest for pheasants released Wednesday through Fridays (50 to 53 percent), and 47.1 percent on Tuesdays.
While overall harvest rates and patterns shown by the latest study generally are consistent with those in the 1998 study, the results still provide a good start in identifying how changes to pheasant-release strategies might increase harvest rates.
Clearly, releasing pheasants on public properties later in the week results in the highest harvest rates.
And maintaining a high number of pheasants released, particularly in the first few weeks of the season, should result in more pheasants bagged by hunters.