HARRISBURG, PA – The third annual wild pheasant youth hunt was held this month and once again, youth hunters had their shot at history.
Over two Saturdays in November, youth hunters took to the fields in Montour and Northumberland counties to pursue roosters within the Central Susquehanna Wild Pheasant Recovery Area. This event continues to mark the success of a decades long collaborative project to restore habitat and wild pheasants back to the Keystone State.
Following hunter surveys that indicated a desire to restore wild pheasant populations to Pennsylvania, the Game Commission in partnership with Pheasants Forever and several key chapters throughout the state completed the Ring-necked Pheasant Management Plan for Pennsylvania: 2008-2017. As part of this plan, Wild Pheasant Recovery Areas were established throughout the state and supported by local Pheasants Forever chapters. Pheasants Forever farm bill biologists along with dedicated chapter members worked closely with landowners within the areas and established crucial winter and nesting habitat needed for pheasant survival. Much of this came in the way of the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program which provided landowners with annual payments to set aside portions of their property and plant primarily warm season grass stands.
After the habitat was established, Pheasants Forever, the Game Commission, and Habitat Forever partnered with western states to trap and transfer thousands of wild pheasants from South Dakota and Montana, and translocate them into the Recovery Areas. Biologists monitored populations over time and researched many important aspects of pheasant ecology including habitat preference, home range, and survival. Although not all Recovery Areas were a success, one area in particular saw populations respond to the habitat exponentially. Central Susquehanna Recovery Area proved to hold the right ingredients, and by 2016, managers decided that the area had realized the goal of the program by obtaining a huntable population. The Game Commission approved a special limited permit youth hunt for 2017 within the area and a drawing was held selecting youth hunters to take part in the hunt. The inaugural hunt saw great success with 131 birds flushed, 66 shots fired, and five roosters harvested. In 2018, 199 birds were flushed, 45 shots were fired, and one rooster was harvested. This year was a reflection of 2017.
After a September drawing, young hunters met at the Washingtonville Volunteer Fire Company in the early morning hours of on Nov. 2 and 9. After a welcome by both Pheasants Forever and the Game Commission staff, hunters and their families were provided with a safety briefing by local Game Wardens, then assigned a mentor who would guide two youth hunters in the field and provide excellent dog-handling as well. After arriving at their assigned farms, youth, their parent or guardian, and the mentor headed into the cover. Weather this year couldn’t have been any better with frosty, windless sunlit mornings. Every hunting group flushed wild pheasants, and the majority of hunters had the opportunity to harvest a rooster. Following the hunt, everyone returned to a top-notch luncheon put on by Central Susquehanna Pheasants Forever Chapter and shared their respective stories from the day’s hunt before either returning home or taking advantage of the many nearby hunting opportunities on state game lands.
After two mornings of hunts on 4 farms, 177 birds were flushed including 92 roosters, 62 shots were fired, and five long-tailed male ring-necks were put in the game bags of several very excited youngsters. Smiles abounded on the faces of both hunters and their families throughout the hunt. Although each youth left with a good meal and lots of great gifts from the Game Commission, the most crucial thing they took away was seeing firsthand the importance of habitat, making memories of hunting this classic game bird, and continuing a centuries old tradition in Pennsylvania.