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Wisconsin DNR pheasant stocking program gets a boost as budget increases

By JERRY DAVIS / Freelance outdoors writer

Pheasant hunters flocking to public lands, including the Kickapoo Valley Reserve near La Farge, will be pleasantly surprised this autumn. ADVERTISEMENT

Rather than continuing a downward spiral of fewer and fewer pheasants released on public hunting lands, Wisconsin is planning a 50 percent increase in birds raised at the State Game Farm in Poynette, Wis.

"We're planning on raising between 30,000 and 35,000 birds this year," said Don Bates, Department of Natural Resources game farm manager in Poynette. "That will be similar to what we released two years ago. Last year we had 19,000 birds."

Dave Matheys, DNR wildlife manager in Viroqua, Wis., expects the proposed increase to be reflected in the number of birds released on several public lands in the Coulee Region.

"With a 50 percent increase at the game farm, I expect about a 50 percent increase in the birds we get at places like the Kickapoo Valley Reserve," Matheys said. "I think we received about 920 birds there last year and Bell Center got about 300 in 2004."

Bates also plans on providing 50,000 day-old chicks for conservation clubs to raise and release.

"Clubs were reduced about 30 percent in 2004 when we provided about 38,000 chicks," Bates said. "Pheasant hunters will notice a difference from last year in terms of numbers of birds released and numbers of releases. They should be pleased."

Statewide, about 60 clubs receive day-old chicks. At one time, nearly 200 clubs raised pheasant chicks and released them on private land open to public hunting.

"It's not cheap to build fences and feed chicks and find caretakers for these birds, so we're seeing fewer and fewer clubs involved in raising day-old chicks," Bates said.

Kickapoo Valley Reserve will continue to receive adult hens and roosters for their releases.

"Many of the hens we release on hen property are breeder hens, so they're about three pounds, or as large as a yearling rooster," Bates said.

The pheasant farm budget was increased from $98,000 to $161,000 this year, making the increases possible. The DNR was able to use some federal funding for a portion of the chronic wasting disease work, which allowed shifting $63,000 to the game farm. Also, each wildlife region in the state received an additional $63,000 this year, Bates said.

Had Bates known sooner that extra money was being allocated to the farm, he would have saved more hens for his breeding stock instead of releasing as many on public hunting lands last season. As it is, he has 4,900 pheasants, including roosters, to produce eggs he needs for day-old chicks and adult birds raised at the game farm.

"We'll scramble by," Bates said. "I'm going to squeeze every egg I can out of those breeder hens and hope we end up with what I want. If not, we can possibly purchase some day-old chicks and may be able to purchase adult birds, too."

The exact number of pheasants raised this year will depend on feed costs, as well as egg production. The more birds, the longer releases will continue into the season, which opens Oct. 15.

"Some smaller properties that were cut back last year will likely get some birds and we'll do more stocking, maybe twice a week on some of the major properties, so instead of getting 2-3 stockings, some will get 4-5 stockings," Bates said. "We can probably stretch out the stockings longer into November, rather than quit in early November."

Stockings will be handled by DNR biologists and local conservation club volunteers, as has been done in the past. The Kickapoo Valley Reserve staff stocked most of the pheasants at La Farge last year.

The future for the DNR's pheasant release program could look even brighter in 2006 or 2007 if legislation is passed that includes instituting a pheasant tag system.

"What is proposed for the future is to sell pheasant tags hunters would use to tag each pheasant they killed on public lands that are stocked," Bates said. "The proposed price is 10 tags for $10 and hunters could purchase anther 10 tags if they used the first 10. This would be a system where the hunters who hunted pheasants on public land that is stocked would be paying directly for the stocking program."

Right now everyone purchasing hunting and fishing licenses help pay for part of the pheasant stocking program.

Bates sees the stocking program expanding to 60,000 birds, provided hunters participate in the pheasant tag program if it is approved.

"This is all good news for pheasant hunters," Matheys said. "It shows good faith of the DNR to try to increase pheasant production and releases."

Jerry Davis can be reached at (608) 924-1112 or at

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