Ithaca, N.Y. — When fall hunting season rolls around, the pheasants will be there for bird hunting enthusiasts.
But for the people responsible for running New York’s lone remaining game farm, providing that crop of gaudy ringnecks for the wingshooting crowd was a bigger challenge this year.
Last year hot, dry weather helped produce optimum conditions for raising pheasants at the Reynolds Game Farm just outside Ithaca, but this summer has been the opposite – cooler and much wetter overall.
But that doesn’t mean there will be fewer birds to release for hunting this fall, according to game farm Manager Evan Wills.
It just means Wills and his staff had to be more diligent to make sure there will be plenty of hens and cackling roosters to keep hunters and their dogs happy.
“This year’s conditions have required us to keep a watchful eye on the weather forecast while moving young birds out of the nursery. (That means) being adaptable for the day-to-day work plan by quickly changing gears if the sun is out or the day’s forecast was rain,” Wills said. “Optimum conditions call for dry, hot weather on the day young pheasants leave the nursery. The weather just means we need to pay a little closer attention to the weather forecast, but overall production is aimed at meeting similar goals year to year.”
Wild pheasants are scarce in New York state, meaning hunters have to rely almost entirely on the state’s put-and-take pheasant propagation program.
The game farm has a breeder flock of more than 7,000 pheasants. Hens begin to lay eggs from early March through mid-June, with incubation and chicks hatching from early April through late June.
Once chicks hatch, they are either shipped out to cooperators of DEC’s day-old chick program or kept on the farm to grow into adults.
“Our annual goal is to produce around 30,000 adult pheasants to be released in New York state per the pheasant plan adopted in 2010. In addition to this, 2,000 adult pheasants are also raised to be used for sponsored hunts across New York,” Wills said. “This is where a group or club may apply with the DEC to hold a pheasant hunt exclusively for youth, novices, women, veterans and/or people with disabilities. Interested clubs may contact their local wildlife office for application or print one off the website.
“We have recently configured our anticipated 2017 adult release numbers to be 31,500 pheasants, plus the 2,000 for sponsored hunts,” he said. “The day-old chick program delivered over 34,000 day-old chicks this year to successful applicants.”
Wills doesn’t see those production goals going up or down, at least through 2020, when the current DEC pheasant plan expires.
The Reynolds Game Farm was targeted for closure during the state’s budget crisis in 2008, but was spared after sportsmen’s groups from around the state rallied behind it, including through legal action.
The facility’s operations are supported entirely through the state Conservation Fund, which is fueled by the sale of sporting licenses.
Like the state’s aging fish hatcheries, the Reynolds Game Farm has benefited from the state’s NY Works program.
The game farm, built in 1927, got about $1 million in improvements paid for through the program in 2016, and more improvements are under way this year.
“Recent allocations from New York Works funding have been crucial, aiding in the repair and rehabilitation of an aging infrastructure and grounds,” Wills said. “Recent projects include new paint and windows to the farm’s office building. And plans are in the works to correct longtime drainage issues on the property and rehabilitate remaining buildings on the farm – paint, windows, roofs, etc.”
For information about New York’s long-range pheasant plan, go to www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7273.html.
For a list of pheasant release sites for fall hunting, go to www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/9349.html.