Pennsylvania hunters have grown accustomed to some pretty nice looking ringnecks in recent years. Bob Frye / Everybody Adventures
Hunters already know they’re going to see fewer pheasants this fall. The quantity is just not going to measure up to recent norms.
But will the birds be of lesser quality, too?
It sounds as if that could potentially be an issue.
As most probably know by now, the Pennsylvania Game Commission is closing two of its four game farms in a cost-cutting move. It’s short of cash, its leaders say, and without a license fee increase, it just can’t continue doing business as it has.
One result is that, instead of there being 220,000 birds released for hunters this fall, the commission hopes to get to maybe 171,000.
That may be optimistic.
“That’s based on making some assumptions about our survival and mortality rates for chicks,” said Bob Boyd, chief of the commission’s propagation division.
Historically, 13 to 15 percent of their pheasants on game farms died before they could be stocked, perishing for various reasons, Boyd said. Moving forward, though, the commission is going to be trying to raise almost as many birds as before on half the space.
“We’re increasing the densities in our brooder houses, we’re increasing the densities in our holding fields, so those rates may not remain, but we’ll see. That’s our best guess right now,” Boyd said.
Those birds will have to be handled differently while on the farms to make sure they look as hunters expect when they get to the fields, too.
The commission is in the process of buying specs and bits – essentially, blinders and beak devices meant to keep birds from pecking one another, pulling out tail and other feathers and even resorting to cannibalism in such close quarters – for its birds. They’re removed before being released.
“These are procedures, little things you put in place to keep them from pecking each other, so that we can continue to maintain the bird quality we’ve experienced in recent decades,” Boyd said. “This will take some time.”
The commission is buying all of its chicks this year. The first shipment is expected to arrive around April 15.
Boyd said the commission will do its turn them into the best birds possible. That’s because the pheasant stocking program is not only popular with hunters, it’s important to the commission and the state’s hunting heritage.
He called it a “legacy program,” one that’s been around for more than 100 years. It provides a tangible return to license buyers and, most importantly, gives youngsters some small game to hunt in an era without wild pheasants and bobwhite quail and decreasing numbers of grouse.
“Research has shown that kids who start hunting small game early on are more likely to remain a hunter throughout their lifetime,” Boyd said.