Imagine walking along a field and seeing a ring-necked pheasant take flight. Colorful feathers and unique cackling are part of a long fall tradition in Pennsylvania.
The sport of pheasant hunting continues with an ongoing effort to breed birds for sportsmen across the state.
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Pheasants are not a native bird of Pennsylvania, and there really isn’t a substantial wild population. In fact, they came here from Asia. The Pennsylvania Game Commission reports that in the early 1890s, private citizens bought pheasants from English game wardens and released them to Lehigh and Northampton counties. For several decades, numerous other small releases across the Commonwealth have been made to establish the pheasant for sport hunting.
Today, the Game Commission multiplies pheasants on two farms for each hunting season.
Loyalsock Game Farm in Montoursville, Lycoming County, and Southwest Game Farm in Armstrong County, have raised 222,000 birds throughout the summer months.
Brad Stine, superintendent of Loyalsock Game Farm, said they buy day-old chicks and raise them for 21 to 22 weeks. About 75% of birds are males with a white ring around their neck.
The birds eat a mixture of grains, wheat and protein which is distributed to the feeders. There are large enclosures with tall grass and corn to allow the birds to grow in somewhat natural habitat. There is a net above the enclosures that keeps birds inside and prevents predators, such as raptors, from entering.
Pheasants grow quickly and can be shipped to hunting areas after 20 weeks.
Mature birds are picked up by Game Commission habitat management teams for delivery to areas on the ground. Loyalsock birds mainly go to the eastern half of the state, and the Southwest Farm manages the western half of the Commonwealth.
The pheasant program has been with the Game Commission since 1915. “It’s because people love to hunt them,” said Ian D. Gregg, Certified Wildlife Biologist, Head of the Wildlife Operations Division. Pheasant hunting is a heritage program and the birds are a “take out” resource similar to how the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stores trout each year.
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Pheasant hunting brings diversity to the hunting experience. He added that small game hunting is a fun way to introduce people to the sport. To further help young athletes, there is a special hunting season for young people which runs from October 9 to 16.
Since 2002, the agency has stored more than 15,000 birds each year at sites advertised for the junior hunting season.
In addition, the commission donates around 2,000 pheasants to sports organizations that have their own youth hunting days.
Regular pheasant seasons this year are Oct 23 through Nov 13; Sunday November 14; November 15-20; Sunday November 21; 22-26 Nov, 13-24 Dec and 27 Dec.-Feb. 28. Athletes may shoot male and female birds with a limit of two per day and a total possession limit of six.
The overall program costs the agency about $ 3.4 million, or 2.2% of the annual budget of $ 158 million. When broken down, that works out to about $ 26 to $ 31 for each bird.
To help offset the cost of the program, in 2017 the agency launched a pheasant license permit program.
Gregg said the extra money helps offset the cost, not how many birds are going to be raised.
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This first year, 42,000 adult licenses were sold and in 2020, 50,000 pheasant licenses were purchased. In addition, there were also 13,000 young pheasant hunters last year.
Adults pay $ 26.97 for the license additional to their hunting license, but it is free for junior hunters.
Nine bird releases are planned this year, including one for the youth season, five for the regular season in October and November and three releases for the end of the season in late December and early January. Two of the late releases, including between Christmas and New Years and the first week of January, are new for this year. When there are at least 50 acres, the agency puts 30 to 50 birds per stand.
Starting last year, the agency opened the entire state to harvesting both males and females. In the past, some wildlife management units were only open to collared men. In these areas, the agency tried unsuccessfully to reestablish a wild population and kept the females protected. Gregg said that because the birds were unable to repopulate in significant numbers, regulations prohibiting the taking of females “took away an opportunity for hunters.”
About 60% of the birds are captured by hunters. “We strive to maximize the return on investment of our investment for the hunter,” said Gregg.
“We what hunters need to know where the birds are and where to hunt,” he said of online resources available on pa.pgc.gov, the agency’s web page. There is an interactive map that shows where birds are released and how many are allocated for each location. Gregg said raising the birds is a team effort across the state. From habitat managers to gardeners and administrators, there are many people involved in providing the sport across the Commonwealth.
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Hunters should look for pheasants in farm fields. Bushy fences, tall grassy areas, and along fields of standing corn and grain are places to find birds.
“We encourage everyone to go out and take advantage of the hunting opportunities offered by these pheasants this fall,” said Gregg.
Brian Whipkey is the outside columnist for the USA Today Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at [email protected] and sign up for our weekly Outdoors Newsletter on your website homepage under your login name.
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My goal is to help others better understand what is available in Pennsylvania and to explain what is going on with state agencies regarding fishing, hunting, and the outdoors. I’ll answer common questions you might have regarding hunting, fishing, camping, visiting state parks and trails, and just about anything you can do outdoors. Twitter: @whipkeyoutdoors / Instagram: whipkeyoutdoors