Pennsylvania – For the first time in over 20 years, Pennsylvania hunters have harvested wild pheasants.

Over two picturesque Saturday mornings in November, junior hunters took to the fields of Montour and Northumberland counties to pursue pheasant roosters within the Central Susquehanna Wild Pheasant Recovery Area.

This event marked the success of a decades-long collaborative project to restore habitat and wild pheasants back to the Keystone State.

Following surveys that revealed hunters’ desire to restore wild pheasant populations to Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, in partnership with several key Pheasants Forever established Wild Pheasant Recovery Areas (WPRAs) in four areas of the state.

Pheasants Forever biologists and chapter members worked closely with cooperating landowners to establish crucial winter and nesting habitat needed for pheasant survival. Much of the habitat created was thanks to the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which provided landowners with annual payments to set aside portions of their property and primarily plant warm-season grass stands.

After quality pheasant habitat was established, Pheasants Forever, the Game Commission and Habitat Forever partnered with western states to trap thousands of wild pheasants from South Dakota and Montana and relocate the birds within WPRAs.

Biologists monitored populations over time and researched many important aspects of pheasant ecology including habitat preference, home range, and survival. Although not all WPRAs were a success, the Central Susquehanna WPRA proved to hold the right habitat ingredients and, in 2016, managers decided that the area had achieved the program goal of supporting a huntable wild pheasant population.

The Game Commission approved a limited-permit youth hunt for 2017 within the Central Susquehanna WPRA and a drawing was held to select junior hunters for the hunt.

On Nov. 4, 17 junior hunters met at the Montour Preserve Education Center and on Nov. 11, 19 junior hunters met at the Washingtonville Volunteer Fire Company.

After a welcome by Pheasants Forever and Game Commission staff, hunters and their families were provided with a safety briefing, then assigned a hunt mentor. Each mentor was responsible for guiding two junior hunters in the field and providing dog handling.

After arriving at their assigned farms, junior hunters, their parents and guardians, and the mentors headed into pheasant cover under blue skies. Every hunting group flushed wild pheasants, and the majority of hunters had the opportunity to harvest a rooster.  Following the hunt, all participants were provided a top-notch luncheon hosted by the Central Susquehanna Pheasants Forever Chapter. All shared stories from the day’s hunt before returning home or taking advantage of the many nearby hunting opportunities on state game lands.

After two mornings of hunts on five farms, 131 birds were flushed including 70 roosters. Sixty-six shots were fired, and five long-tailed ringnecks found their way into the game bags of some very excited youngsters.

Important biological data was collected on each bird to help in the future management of this population.

Each young hunter left with a good meal and lots of great gifts from both Pheasants Forever and the Game Commission. More importantly, they left with a newfound respect for the importance of wildlife habitat, memories of a special hunt for a classic game bird, and knowing they contributed to a centuries-old tradition in Pennsylvania.

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