Stalking Pheasants in Idaho Wildlife Management Areas
By Clair Kofoed, Idaho Department of Fish and Game
Now that big game seasons are winding down and a little time remains before last minute holiday shopping begins, it may seem like an ideal time for some pheasant hunting on one of Idaho Fish and Game’s wildlife management areas.
Well yes, it is a nice time to crate up the bird dog and hit the field, but for a variety of reasons, at this time of year your chance of actually bagging a rooster on a wildlife management area might be less than expected.
Fewer birds are being planted than in years past, and the reason for this is simple economics. The price per bird has increased by half, from about $10 to $15. In 2008, the number of birds stocked on wildlife management areas lands was reduced by 22 percent to stay within the Fish and Game’s fixed pheasant purchasing budget.
The total number of birds released on Southwest Region wildlife management areas (CJ Strike, Fort Boise, Montour, Payette River) went from 9,790 in 2007 to 7,635 in 2008. The $23.75 price tag for a wildlife management area upland game bird permit (which allows for the harvest of six birds), covers less than the cost of two birds, so chances of seeing any increase in pheasant stocking in coming years will hinge on the generation of additional revenue or a big drop in the price of birds.
The number of birds stocked is normally ramped down in December as the weather deteriorates and hunting pressure begins to decline. Game farm pheasants don’t fly well when wet, and releases are usually suspended when rain or wet snow falls. Transporting birds becomes more hazardous for the vendor, so schedules are reduced in anticipation of bad road conditions. Finally, birds released into deep snow are not considered fair-chase hunting, so the bulk of the birds are scheduled for release in late October through November.
Still, pheasants will be released up until Christmas, but numbers will be greatly diminished. The stocking schedule can be found on the Idaho Fish and Game website at: http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/cms/hunt/pheasant/stocking_schedule.cfm.
What kind of pheasant hunting experience can you expect in the Southwest Region? Using Fort Boise Wildlife Management Area as an example, 100 birds stocked each week may sound like a large number, but those birds dispersed across 1,000 acres yields about one bird for every 10 acres. So don’t expect to see a large number of birds during your outing.
Do expect to see other orange-clad hunters. The bust in chukar numbers coupled with furloughed workers with spare time has placed an even greater demand on game farm pheasants this season.
So, come out to a wildlife management area with your dog and enjoy a day in the field, but lower your expectations of harvesting a bird. Remember your field manners. Keep in mind that there are few places where you can walk over thousands of acres of quality habitat without having to ask for permission. If you harvest or see a bird, great! If not, focus on the quality time in the field away from the mall traffic. To my way of thinking, that’s not at all bad.
Clair Kofoed is a wildlife biologist in the Southwest Region.