Pheasant permit not paying dividends for hunters in Pennsylvania

The author would like to know where the birds are, because as this photo shows, there were pheasants to be had last year.

Not to sound like the multitude of peevish whiners who find fault with every aspect of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s supervision of wildlife across the state, but my quest for ringnecks this hunting season has been an exceedingly frustrating venture. And my experience apparently mirrors those of many hunters.

I’ve only hunted the birds twice this season. On both those days, I hunted with a friend and his springer spaniel and beagle. During my hunts, the weather was unseasonably warm, as my friend, his dogs and I trudged through public land under clear blue skies.

We hunted in Berks County within the area surrounding Blue Marsh Lake, invading the vast and truly superb cover there that stretches for miles.

On my first hunt, a bird flushed near my friend, which he connected on. It was the only flush we experienced during the four-hour hunt. We heard no more than 10 shots, and this was the first Monday after the opening day.

The second time afield following an hour of nothing, my friend’s beagle picked up scent along the edge of a thick field, moved from the field to a fence row, and flushed a cock bird more than 100 yards from where we stood. After another hour or so of pushing through dense cover without a single flush, the springer caught scent of a bird along a fence row my companion hunted while I drank water and rested. He shot it — our only kill on our only chance to that point.

We finished another four hours of hunting on a hot afternoon, trudging through thick fields and overgrown fence lines that stretch uphill and back down, with one pheasant bagged on a single chance.

My friend keeps meticulous records of his hunting episodes (it’s something he enjoys doing, basically for reflection in his old age), chronicling all the rabbits shot off the beagle through all her years of chasing, and flushes and kills with the springer, among other accounts.

Last year, hunting the same area, he recorded 88 flushes with 21 birds bagged. At times he hunted alone with the dogs, but most often there was at least one companion (me, a few times). He got out about 10 times. The highest flush number in a day was 17, the lowest four, with an average of 8.8 flushes per hunt.

By comparison, during nine hunting outings overall this year (singular and with friends) he has recorded 18 flushes and five bagged birds. The cover is still excellent, the dogs outstanding in ability, and the hunting done through the most beastly of undergrowth. Something’s not making sense here.

We were warned that there would be a reduction of 30,000 birds released across the state from last year, but that hunters on public lands would not really notice the difference because bird release on private farms under the Hunter Access Program was going to be nearly eliminated.

My friend has run into numerous hunting parties on his outings, some with five hunters and experienced dogs who know pheasant scent well. All have said basically the same thing: “One or two flushes, maybe one bagged — just no birds.”

Parking lots are full on Saturdays, and even then shooting is minimal — hardly any.

Really, I don’t mind the $25 permit, even if I don’t shoot a bird. But I expect some chances. I certainly had some last year, and bagged a few pheasants, too.

In this area, there are many, many unhappy hunters. Complaints will come for sure, the Game Commission can count on that.

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