The Keystone State Will Stock 220,000 Birds This Year
A Pennsylvania native, I hunted cottontail rabbits with my late dad's beagles. Several over the many years were pretty birdy, often finding and flushing woodcock, ruffed grouse and yes, planted pheasants.
Captured in memory: a rooster towering out of swamp tangle, the protesting alarm cackle of this cockbird, long tail feathers rising behind a colorful, coppery form.
Young hunters growing up with the hunting tradition, and veterans alike, will enjoy more Pennsylvania ringnecks this year. According to the state, roughly 75 percent of the pheasants released will be roosters. In 2017-18, only 52 percent of the planted pheasants were males.
Revenue generated by Pennsylvania’s pheasant-hunting permit has been pumped back into the Game Commission’s pheasant propagation program. Hunters this season are expected to see noticeable increases in the number of birds afield – particularly later in the season – and the proportion of roosters among them.
Changes Since Last Year
This season, pheasant hunters should note some important changes since last year:
Junior hunters, who last season weren’t required to obtain pheasant permits, need them this year, although the permits are free to junior hunters.
And hunters who held their senior lifetime licenses prior to May 13, 2017 – when the requirement for a pheasant permit became regulation – have been exempted from needing pheasant permits, and can hunt pheasants without them.
Otherwise, all adult and senior hunters need pheasant permits, which continue to cost $26.90 and are required in addition to a general license. The permit and license both must be signed and carried afield while hunting pheasants.
In the pheasant permit’s inaugural year (2017-18), sales topped $1.1 million. This revenue has been used this year to increase the statewide allocation to 220,000 pheasants – a more than 30 percent increase compared to the 170,000 birds targeted for release in 2017-18.
And even though hunters statewide might find more roosters among the pheasants they flush, more hunters than ever will be able to harvest hens in the coming season. The prohibition on hen pheasant hunting has been lifted in Wildlife Management Units 2A, 2C, 4C and 5B. Only in WMUs 4E and 5A are hunters limited to harvesting roosters.
While significantly more pheasants will be released in 2018-19, the increase will be most noticeable beginning with the second in-season stocking, said Bob Boyd, who heads the Game Commission’s wildlife services division.
The pheasant release preceding the junior pheasant season, as well as the release prior to the statewide opener and the first in-season release, both contain similar numbers of birds as last year.
The second, third and fourth in-season stockings, as well as the winter release, all will see more pheasants, and hunters could enjoy some of their best opportunities following those later releases, Boyd said.
With four more WMUs now home to either-sex pheasant hunting, and roosters comprising 75 percent of all pheasants released, most of the birds stocked during the winter release will be males, Boyd said. In previous years, the winter release in either-sex WMUs was comprised almost entirely of hens.
The 2018-19 winter release of an expected 24,000 birds figures to triple that of 2017-18, and it will be conducted over two days instead of one.
Roosters and Hens
For hunters new to pursuing hen pheasants, Boyd said there’s not much difference, other than the absence of a tell-tale rooster cackle when the bird flushes.
“But they’re just as tough a target to hit and they taste just as good on the table,” Boyd said.
Boyd also is careful to assure hunters that it’s okay to harvest hen pheasants. In traditional wild pheasant harvest management, protection of hens is important to allow hunting without adverse effect on the population, he said. Today, pheasant hunting in Pennsylvania, with little exception, is entirely dependent on propagated birds.
The only reason roosters-only pheasant hunting remains in WMUs 4E and 5A is because each of those WMUs contains a Wild Pheasant Recovery Area, where trapped-and-transported wild pheasants exist.
While pheasant hunting is closed within WPRAs and propagated birds aren’t released there, pheasant hunting remains open in the areas of WMUs 4E and 5A that are outside the WPRA.
The Game Commission earlier this year dissolved the Somerset WPRA, allowing the stocking and hunting of pheasants to resume there this season.
This season promises to be a good one for pheasant hunters, too.
With more pheasants, more roosters and more late-season opportunities for pheasant hunters to take birds, hunters are likely to find this season ranks among their best, Boyd said.
“And for those who take part, it surely will be a memorable one,” he said.
To increase awareness of where and when pheasants will be stocked, the Game Commission publishes a release properties map here.
For Pennsylvania small game seasons, including pheasant, go here.