Pheasant stocking program underway
Poet T.S. Eliot famously anointed April “the cruelest month,” but the title of “busiest month” for those who scour Pennsylvania’s fields and forests in search of game goes to the month of October hands down. Archers who have been roaming Penn’s Woods in search of whitetail deer Since Oct. 1 can expect some company when black powder buffs get their weeklong chance starting this Saturday, Oct. 15, through Oct. 22, plying their muzzleloader skills on antlerless deer only. Camo-clad bowhunters are required to add some fluorescent orange to their wardrobes during this overlap time - a minimum of 250 square inches on head, back and chest combined when moving. The orange can be removed when the archer is on stand and stationary, but 100 square inches of fluorescent orange material must be posted within 15 feet of their location.
Small game hunters will also heed an Oct. 15 opening bell when the seasons on squirrel, rabbit, and grouse all begin and run through Nov. 26. For junior hunters, those small game species (with the exception of grouse) are already in play. The pheasant season kicked off on Saturday, Oct. 8, with the start of the one-week season for junior hunters, but doesn’t open up to all hunters statewide until Saturday, Oct. 22. Daily limits on these species are as follows: Squirrel, 6; Rabbits, 4; Grouse, 2; Pheasants, 2. Bobwhite quail, raccoons and foxes may also be hunted beginning on Oct. 22. Trapping season for foxes, coyotes, raccoons, opossums, skunks and weasels opens on Sunday, Oct 23, and runs through Feb. 18. Then, at the end of the month, Turkey season opens on Oct. 29 (but not here in Wildlife Management Units 5C and 5D where there is no fall turkey season).
For the state’s pheasant aficionados, there’s a “good news/bad news”
caveat in play this year. “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. 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.
“But the future of pheasant hunting in Pennsylvania might not be as bright,” Hough added. In fact, 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 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.
“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,” said Hough. “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.”
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 inseason 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 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.
Hunters also should note that pheasant hunting is closed in all Wild Pheasant Recovery Areas, where the Game Commission is attempting to restore selfsustaining wild pheasant populations. Maps of Wild Pheasant Recovery Areas begin on Page 50 of the Hunting and Trapping 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, “But this year, for certain, pheasant hunters have a lot to look forward to,” Hough said.
CHESCO PHEASANT STOCKINGS
The PGC’s pheasant stocking areas in Chester County consist of Struble Lake, Dry Dam, Marsh Creek, Chester Water Authority, French Creek, and State Game Lands #43. The PGC is set to stock just over 4,000 birds here from Oct. 7 prior to the Junior Hunt through Nov. 18.
In last week’s column we congratulated Philadelphia Eagles’ Quarterback Carson Wentz on his bowhunting prowess for downing a nice 8-point buck in North Dakota during the Eagle’s Bye Week. For bowhunting buffs like yours truly it was dispiriting to see that Wentz’s weapon of choice was incorrectly identified as a crossbow by a Philadelphia Daily News sportswriter and also during the television broadcast of the Eagles’ pregame show on Sunday. The bow pictured with Wentz and his buck is NOT a crossbow; it’s a compound bow. I take umbrage at such shoddy reporting since every bowhunter understands that downing a buck with a compound bow (as Wentz did) is a markedly more challenging task than collecting one with a crossbow. Just wanted to give our rookie QB the bowhunting props he deserves.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission’s pheasant stocking program is now underway.