Junior pheasant hunters rise above wind, rain

The second annual wild pheasant youth hunt was held earlier this month and once again, young hunters had their shot at history.

Over two Saturdays in November, junior hunters took to the fields in Pennsylvania's Montour and Northumberland counties to pursue roosters within the Central Susquehanna Wild Pheasant Recovery Area.

This event marked the continued success of a decades-long collaborative to restore habitat and wild pheasants back to the Keystone State, an initiative for which Pennsylvania hunters have demonstrated their support.

Junior hunters seeking an opportunity to take part in the annual wild-pheasant hunt can apply prior to a September drawing, in which some applicants are selected at random to take part either on the first Saturday of the hunt, which this year was Nov. 3, or the second Saturday, which this year was Nov. 10.

During the hunt, a pair of hunters and their guardians travel to an assigned property where they’re guided by a volunteer dog-handler.

Forty juniors participated in this year’s hunt. On both Saturdays this year, 20-to-40-mph winds and heavy rain the day before each hunt day made it tough on both dogs and hunters.

Still, most hunters had the opportunity to harvest a rooster.

In total, 199 birds, including 93 roosters, were flushed on four farms during two mornings of the hunt. Forty-five shots were fired, and one long-tailed male ringneck was put in the game bag of a very excited youngster.

All hunters and handlers were treated to a top-notch luncheon by Central Susquehanna Pheasants Forever Chapter and received great gifts from both Pheasants Forever and the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

And, importantly, they got to see firsthand the importance of habitat while making memories hunting a classic game bird and continuing a tradition in Pennsylvania.

Wild Pheasant Recovery Areas (WPRAs) are areas where habitat has been improved to support wild, naturally reproducing pheasants that were trapped and transferred from western states. There are three active WPRAs in Pennsylvania, and the Central Susquehanna WPRA is the only one within which limited wild-pheasant hunting has taken place.

WPRAs generally are closed to pheasant hunting and propagated pheasants aren’t permitted to be released there.

WPRAs were established through the Ring-necked Pheasant Management Plan for Pennsylvania: 2008-2017, which was developed by the Game Commission in partnership with Pheasants Forever. WPRAs are supported by local Pheasants Forever chapters that work closely with landowners to provide 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. Biologists monitored wild-pheasant populations on their new ranges, and the Central Susquehanna WPRA in 2016 proved to have the right ingredients for its first hunt, reaching the WPRA program goal of achieving a huntable wild-pheasant population.

In the inaugural hunt in 2017, 131 pheasants were flushed, 66 shots were fired and five roosters harvested.

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