Pennsylvania Game Commission set to stock more than 200,000 pheasants
Imagine walking along a field’s edge and seeing a ring-necked pheasant take flight. The colorful feathers and unique cackling sound are part of a long autumn tradition in Pennsylvania.
The sport of pheasant hunting continues thanks to an ongoing effort to raise birds for sportsmen across the state.
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Pheasants are not a native bird to Pennsylvania, and there really isn’t a substantial wild population. They actually arrived here from Asia. The Pennsylvania Game Commission reports that during the early 1890s, private citizens purchased pheasants from English game keepers and released them in Lehigh and Northampton counties. For several decades, many other small releases across the commonwealth were made to establish the pheasant for sport hunting.
Today, the Game Commission propagates pheasants at two farms for each hunting season.
The Loyalsock Game Farm in Montoursville, Lycoming County, and the Southwest Game Farm in Armstrong County, have raised 222,000 the birds throughout the summer months.
Brad Stine, superintendent of the Loyalsock Game Farm, said they purchase day old chicks and raise them over 21-22 weeks. About 75% of the birds are males that have a white ring around the their neck.
The birds eat a mixture of grains, wheat and protein that is dispensed in feeders. There are large pens with tall grasses and corn to allow the birds to grow in a somewhat natural habitat. There is netting over the pens that keeps the birds in and keep predators, such as raptors, out.
The pheasants grow quickly and can be shipped to hunting areas after 20 weeks.
Mature birds are picked up by Game Commission habitat crews to be delivered in fielded areas. Loyalsock’s birds primarily go to the eastern half of the state, and the Southwest farm handles the western half of the commonwealth.
The pheasant program has been part of the Game Commission since 1915. “It’s because people like to hunt them,” said Ian D. Gregg, certified wildlife biologist, Wildlife Operations Division Chief. Pheasant hunting is a heritage program and the birds are a “put and take” resource similar to how the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stocks 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 younger sportsmen, there is a special youth hunting season that runs Oct. 9-16.
Since 2002, the agency stocked more than 15,000 birds each year at advertised sites for the junior hunting season.
In addition, the commission donates about 2,000 pheasants to sportsmen organizations who have their own youth hunting days.
The regular pheasant seasons this year are Oct. 23-Nov. 13; Sunday, Nov. 14; Nov. 15-20; Sunday, Nov. 21; Nov. 22-26, Dec. 13-24 and Dec. 27-Feb. 28. Sportsmen can shoot both male and female birds with a limit of two each day and total possession limit of six.
The overall program costs the agency about $3.4 million, which is 2.2% of the $158 million annual budget. When broken down, that’s about $26 to $31 for each bird.
To help offset the cost of the program, in 2017 the agency started a pheasant license permit program.
Gregg said the additional money helps offset the cost, not determine how many birds are going to be raised.
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That first year, 42,000 adult permits were sold and in 2020, 50,000 pheasant licenses were purchased. In addition, there were also 13,000 junior pheasant hunters last year.
Adults pay $26.97 for the add-on permit to their hunting license, but it is free for junior hunters.
Nine bird releases are planned this year, including one for youth season, five for the regular season in October and November, and three releases for the late season at the end of December and early January. Two of the late releases, including between Christmas and the New Year and the first week of January, are new for this year. When there’s at least 50 acres, the agency puts 30-50 birds per stocking.
Starting last year, the agency opened the entire state to harvesting both males and females. In the past, some Wildlife Management Units were open only to male, ring-necks. In those areas, the agency tried unsuccessfully to re-establish a wild population and kept the females protected. Gregg said since the birds were not able to repopulate in significant numbers, the regulation against taking females was “taking away an opportunity for hunters.”
About 60% of the birds are taken by hunters. “We strive to maximize the return of our investment to the hunter,” Gregg said.
“We what hunters to know where the birds are and where to hunt,” he said about the online resources that are available at pa.pgc.gov which is the agency’s webpage. There's an interactive map that shows where the birds are released and how many are allocated for each location. Gregg said raising the birds is a team effort across the state. From the habitat managers to the gardeners and administrators, many people are involved in providing this sport across the commonwealth.
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Hunters should look for pheasants in farm field settings. Brushy fencerows, tall grassy areas and along standing corn and grain fields are places to find birds.
“We encourage everyone to get out there and take advantage of the hunting opportunities provided by these pheasants this fall,” Gregg said.
Brian Whipkey is the outdoor columnist for USA Today Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and sign up for our weekly Outdoors Newsletter email on your website's homepage under your login name.
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My goal is to help others better understand what’s available in Pennsylvania and to explain what’s happening with state agencies regarding fishing, hunting and enjoying the outdoors. I’ll answer common questions that you may have regarding hunting, fishing, camping, visiting the state parks and trails and almost anything else that you can do outdoors. Twitter: @whipkeyoutdoors / Instagram: whipkeyoutdoors