It’s kind of interesting sometimes to look back at past hunting experiences; for example, do you remember back in the 60s and 70s when hunting pheasants was very common and taking a limit of birds was not at all unusual. Back then, even without a dog, I would often go out for a few hours and kick brush and work my way along brushy fence rows, putting out ringnecks and maybe even taking home a couple. As we all know, those days have pretty much disappeared.
Changing farming practices and the development of former pheasant hunting territory are likely leading reasons why we no longer have a wild pheasant population here in Pennsylvania. Today we only have stocked birds in certain locations, but back in 1971, the Game Commission reported a peak of 1.3 million birds taken that year. All that being said, however, I recently had a chance to revisit the past.
A couple of weeks ago, I got a call from a recent acquaintance, John Bat, who is an avid pheasant hunter. John invited me to go along with him and his hunting buddy Dave Pudlosky for a few hours of pheasant hunting. I met the guys on state game lands where pheasants had been stocked that morning. Shortly after pushing our way up the brushy hollow, the first shot rang out, and we had our first bird. John and Dave each had a bird before a cock bird busted out of the brush and came across in front of me. I swung my Ithaca 20-gauge pump into action and dropped the bird about 20 yards away — wow, that’s something I hadn’t done for at least ten years.
Hunting these stocked birds did require some walking, and it’s also true that you will increase your chances of success if you hunt with a dog. We probably flushed 12 or 15 birds in the few hours we hunted, and we ended up with five birds between the three of us, but I doubt that that would have been the case without John’s dog. What made this hunt even more interesting is that John’s dog is a beagle. Pointers and setters are usually bird-hunting dogs, and beagles are usually reserved for running rabbits. I found out pretty quickly that when a beagle works a pheasant, it’s similar to pursuing rabbits; there’s no pointing, but when that tail starts moving back and forth rapidly, you better move in and get into shooting posture.
Pheasant hunting in Pennsylvania runs from Oct. 22 to Nov. 25 statewide and then from Dec. 12-23 and Dec. 26-Feb. 27. Of course, we are hunting stocked birds these days, but the Game Commission has allocated 170,000 birds to be stocked before and during the pheasant hunting seasons. If you go to the Pheasant Allocation page at http://www.pgc.pa.gov, you should be able to find stocking maps at various game lands and allocation updates. Be aware that unless you have a senior lifetime resident license or a senior lifetime resident combination license that you purchased prior to May 13, 2017, you must purchase a pheasant permit at $26.90. Junior hunters and mentored permit holders under 17 need a free permit.
It’s not like the good old days, but it sure was fun busting a few of those rare birds that were once a pretty common sight.