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Ramped-up stockings haven't sparked increase in pheasant hunting

| Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Submitted
Pheasant

And you thought it was tough getting dad out of his recliner after a plate of turkey and the fixings on Thanksgiving.

It turns out it's pretty hard to get him into the pheasant fields, too.

Last year the Pennsylvania Game Commission stocked 200,000 ringnecks statewide. That was twice what had been the norm over most of the previous decade.

The hope was that all of the extra birds would convince sportsmen to return to their small game roots.

It didn't happen.

The hunters who chased birds had a ball. The commission estimates they killed 198,704 last autumn compared to 116,828 the year before.

“We got a ton of feedback on the season. What we heard was just a huge amount of positive comments from hunters,” commissioner Ralph Martone of New Castle said.

But the people hunting all of those birds were apparently the same ones who were hunting pheasants in the lean years, too.

“We saw a near doubling of the harvest, which you'd expect since we stocked twice as many birds. But we didn't see an obvious jump in hunters,” said Bob Boyd, wildlife services division chief for the commission, who oversees the pheasant propagation program.

In 2011, when the commission was stocking 100,000 birds, Pennsylvania had an estimated 88,307 pheasant hunters who spent 384,125 days afield. Last year, with 200,000 birds out there, Pennsylvania had 87,341 pheasant hunters who spent 389,694 days afield.

That's a statistical wash, Boyd said. But it's early, too, he said.

It will take a few more years of stocking lots of birds — the goal is to get to 250,000 sooner than later — to see if it's possible to make hunter numbers trend upward, he said.

Martone agreed, suggesting a lot of hunters have switched from pursuing small game to archery deer hunting in recent years. Getting them out of their treestands and back into the pheasant fields, at least on occasion, will take some convincing.

“I think it's just a time thing,” Martone said. “We told people about all of the extra birds last year, but I don't know if they didn't believe us or what. I'm sure this year that the word's gotten out a little better, and we're going to see a few more hunters.”

This year's pheasant season is already here, at least for some.

The general statewide season in which everyone can participate doesn't open until Oct. 26. But the special youth-only pheasant season runs through Saturday.

It got off to a rough start in one way.

The federal government shutdown meant that some federal properties typically stocked for the kids didn't get birds. One was the Golden Run portion of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Shenango River Lake near Hermitage.

Birds bound for that property went elsewhere in Mercer County.

“We regret having to make this move, but pheasants are a high-dollar resource and the agency has an obligation to place the birds in areas where we get the best return for sportsmen's dollars spent,” said Keith Harbaugh, director of the commission's northwest region office.

Other corps properties have been stocked. Loyalhanna River Lake in Westmoreland County, Conemaugh River Lake in Indiana and Crooked Creek Lake in Armstrong got birds prior to this weekend, said Travis Anderson, land management supervisor in the commission's southwest region office.

“The areas we stock on Army Corps properties, they're not in the day-use areas that have been impacted by the shutdown, and they're not behind gates. They're all places you can access from a state or township road,” Anderson said. “So the shutdown won't affect us.”

Hunters who take advantage of the season should have some good days, Boyd said.

The commission's pheasant farms are on pace to stock even more birds than anticipated. The total should be around 220,000, he said.

“We're trying to maximize opportunities for hunters, and we've had a pretty good year on the farms, so I think it should be a nice season,” Boyd said.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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