Another mild winter combined with a typical spring gave Pennsylvania pheasants a head-start on a promising fall ahead
By Andy Fondrick, Digital Marketing Specialist at Pheasants Forever
Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this forecast, you must hunt pheasants. If you hunt pheasants and don’t belong to Pheasants Forever or you need to renew, it’s time. Since inception, PF has impacted over 19 million acres of habitat, and created over 200,000 acres of permanently public wild places to hunt and recreate. Upland habitat, public lands and hunting heritage need you. Join, renew or extend and for a limited time get a sweet PF Field Hoodie to boot!
Decent winter and spring months combined with significant work to the pheasant landscape in Pennsylvania has helped upland birds get through a hot, dry summer. While private lands have seen habitat decrease in recent years, Pheasants Forever farm bill biologists are continuing to work hard at reversing these trends and establish more acres of grasslands within the states two wild pheasant recovery areas.
All indications point towards a strong late season habitat which should allow for younger birds to put on some growth, providing for some fun this fall before the winter months hit.
WEATHER AND CONDITIONS
“This winter proved to be another fairly mild one in Pennsylvania, which always helps to ease winter-related mortality of pheasants,” says Thomas Keller, wildlife research biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC). “We conduct flushing surveys in February to assist with population estimates and without the snowpack, birds were fairly spread out and able to utilize a lot of cover that typically is not available during the winter months.”
Steady rains during a fairly typical spring shouldn’t have negatively impacted brood production, but summer provided some challenges for nesting and brood rearing.
“Unfortunately, summer was hot and dry in most parts of the state,” says Keller. “It began in June and only recently abating in late August. This pushed back the growing season for many of the warm season grasses that Pennsylvania pheasants depend on for cover and some nesting. Thankfully with their late growing season and the oncoming rains, we think the birds will be able to put some growth on for the coming winter.”
While upland habitat has continued to decrease on private lands, the PGC has been developing excellent habitat on State Game Lands, which make up over 1.5 million acres in Pennsylvania.
“This habitat will be stocked with over 220,000 pen-reared birds in 2020-21 and upland hunters will enjoy a mix of forbs and warm season grasses found in reverting field complexes,” Keller says. “This management not only benefits pheasants, but many other game and non-game species through solid food and cover going into the fall and winter months. To find this fantastic cover and stocking locations check out the PGC pheasant page.
HABITAT, BROODS AND COUNTS
According to Keller, Pennsylvania doesn’t conduct brood surveys of the states wild pheasant areas, but several private landowners have reported good brood numbers throughout the spring and early summer.
“Biologists conducted crowing count surveys this past spring within the two wild pheasant recovery areas,” Keller says. “The Franklin County area showed an marked increase in population compared to last year. Unfortunately, the Central Susquehanna area showed a decline in population in comparison to 2019. This decline is likely a direct result of continued habitat loss within private lands in the area.”
But work is being done to help correct these issues.
“Pheasants Forever farm bill biologists are continuing to work hard at reversing the trend and establish more acres of grasslands within both of these areas,” says Keller. Check out the PGC annual wildlife management report
for a full summary of monitoring and results from the 2019-20 field season.
For hunters looking to chase longtails in Pennsylvania this fall, Keller has a handful of spots to get you started in the right direction.
“Pheasants are stocked well throughout the state but there are some places that hunters should focus on because of the expansive habitat available,” Keller says. “The first place I would recommend would be Blue Marsh Lake in Berks County. This is a combination of State Game Lands and Army Corps of Engineers lands managed by the PGC. This area is being managed specifically for small game and along with pheasants, hunters will find managed dove fields, good rabbit cover, woodlots with squirrels and even woodcock in mid- to late October.”
Keller also recommends focusing on York/Adams Counties. “Both of these counties have quite a few state game lands, many broken into compartments, and almost all are located within agricultural communities which provide good surrounding habitat,” he says. “There are plenty of good parking areas, and for hunters wishing to travel from Maryland, it’s only a hop, skip, and jump away.”
“The third area I would recommend would be Cumberland County,” says Keller. “This county has two game lands that receive a good number of birds, and have been managed specifically for grasslands, with large mixed grass/forb stands to hold birds long into the season. With both the Turnpike and Route 81 being nearby, hunters willing to hit the road can find access fairly easily whether from in state or out.”
Finally, the PGC offers a great opportunity for youth to hunt wild pheasants within the Central Susquehanna Wild Pheasant Recovery Area in Northumberland County. “This is an excellent opportunity for families to experience the “good old days” as the last several years hunt days have yielded hundreds of flushes in golden fields of grass,” says Keller.
If you have a junior hunter and are interested in this youth hunt, head to the PGA youth page
for more information and to apply.
As the states season opener approaches on October 24th, Keller recommends hunters pay close attention to stocking locations, allocations and schedules which will be posted on the PGC pheasant page
“Get out as close to the stocking day as you can to take advantage of the birds,” says Keller, “but don’t worry if you miss the opener, stockings will occur all the way from mid-October up until Christmas.”
The PGC interactive map
will help hunters to find the best pheasant cover where they can expect birds to be holding.
If you aren’t finding success in the fields, Keller suggests thinking like a grouse hunter and heading for the surrounding shrubby cover or woodlands.
“After the few first pushes of the day, pheasants get wise and head into the thick stuff to find refuge and avoid pesky dogs snuffling around behind them,” he says. “Hunt fence rows and woods edges, even well into the trees looking for holding cover such as brambles, thick shrubs, or blowdowns and you might put up some of those sly ring-necks who would otherwise let you walk right by.”
“No matter how you decide to hunt them, Pennsylvania welcomes you to another awesome year of upland hunting in the Keystone State,” Keller says. “Stay safe and have a wonderful time in the field.”