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10
Washington hunter trying to keep pheasant count high
By Bob Frye
TRIBUNE-REVIEW OUTDOORS EDITOR
http://pittsburghlive.com/x/tribune-review/sports/outdoors/s_361159.html
Sunday, August 7, 2005

Brian Hanna has this year, as he always does, saved some of his vacation days to go pheasant hunting. He's hoping they won't be wasted. Hanna, who lives near Washington in Washington County, takes Fridays and Mondays throughout November to take his beagles and English setter out chasing ringnecks.

This year, though, there will be fewer birds out there to find. The Pennsylvania Game Commission, forced to cut $3 million from its 2004-05 budget while it seeks a license fee increase, is stocking just 100,000 birds this fall instead of its normal 200,000.

"I'm just appalled by that," Hanna said. "Every time I think about it I get upset. I mean, I'm a deer hunter, too, but especially if we want to keep our kids interested in hunting, small game is what we need." Hanna, with the help of a Wilkes-Barre man, is trying to make sure hunters have it. Hanna and Jay Delaney have teamed up to create a Web site, www.pheasantspa.org, that is aimed at organizing the state's pheasant hunters.

One of their chief goals is to get as many names as possible on an on-line petition and convince commissioners and lawmakers to find the money to put more ringnecks out there. Hanna and Delaney said they want more pheasants not so much for adults like themselves, but for junior hunters who are just now deciding whether they want to be involved in the sport.

Ironically, though, junior hunters will feel the pinch of fewer pheasants as sharply as anyone else. In trying to get the best return on the birds it will stock, the commission is trimming the number of pheasants released for the special youth-only pheasant hunt from 18,000 to 15,000, said Carl Riegner, chief of the commission's propagation division. None of those birds will be allotted to sportsmen's clubs for mentored hunts.

"We felt that with the cut in production, those 2,000 birds would better serve the public by putting them in the regular program," Riegner said.

Hunters of all ages will notice the cutback in other ways, too.

Typically, the commission does one pre-season stocking of pheasants, three in-season stockings and one late-season stocking after Christmas. This year, there will be just one pre-season and two in-season stockings. Some areas that have gotten birds in the past may not get any either.

"My recommendation would be to service the sportsmen where they have the best access to the birds, like state game lands, state parks and federal lands, as opposed to private lands in one of our co-op programs," Riegner said.

Next fall's hunting won't be much better unless hunters can change someone's mind in a hurry. Riegner said that if the commission wants to stock 200,000 pheasants in 2006, he'll need to know that by October so that he can hold back hens for brood purposes.

Hanna and Delaney hope to present their petition -- which had attracted 371 signatures from across the state and West Virginia and Ohio as of Friday -- to Game Commissioners at their meeting Oct. 2-4.

In the meantime, they are also working to rally support for creation of a pheasant stamp. It would be required of anyone hunting pheasants, just like trout anglers need a trout stamp. The Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, working with state Rep. Bruce Smith, the York County Republican chairman of the House Game

and Fisheries Committee, have put together a coalition of groups to craft a license hike proposal. Their first-draft package calls for a pheasant stamp.

Most die-hard hunters would probably be OK with that on one condition, said Shon Robbins, Pheasants Forever's biologist for Pennsylvania and the northeast. They want to see the stamp money split between producing pen-raised birds and providing habitat for wild ones.

Hanna said he could support that, so long as stockings continue while the work of establishing wild pheasant populations progresses.

"I just think we have to maintain the hunter base we have until the habitat comes back. We can't do that without the birds," Hanna said.

Delaney agreed. The Game Commission published statistics in its own magazine in March showing that 61 percent of sportsmen are hunting small game less. The article further stated that hunters who give up small game are more likely to quit hunting altogether.

The commission needs to keep those hunters in the fold by giving them something to hunt, Delaney said.

"We're interested in promoting the heritage of our sport, the part about spending time with our families, all that stuff, that's why we're trying to take some time and give some information to the Game Commission," he said.


Bob Frye can be reached at bfrye@tribweb.com or (724) 838-5148

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