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News Articles

Stocks improve southeast pheasant hunts

Pennsylvania hunting map feature

By Vic Attardo
Fishing and Hunting News

LANCASTER, Penn. — It's not like it was in "the old days," when wild, and stocked, pheasants were the mainstay of southeast Pennsylvania hunters.

But along with the start of the regular small game season on Nov. 2, pheasant hunting in the lower southeast still offers its share of excitement.

These days, ringneck hunting in the region is almost entirely — if not entirely — for stocked bird.

The wild pheasant population has been decimated throughout the Keystone State and the southeast did not escape the wrath of pheasant-reducing causes.

These causes have been documented as modern farming practices, loss of habitat, increases in the number of predatory birds and mammals and, many suspect, an avian flu which coursed through these parts in the 1980s.

The combination was lethal for the once plentiful, but alien, birds (they were brought to America from China).

Still the November start of small game season, which adds cottontails and bobwhites to the already open mix of squirrels and grouse, attracts thousands of hunters, many of whom still hunt the southeast's stocked lands.

Some of the best encompass state parks.

Season openers

More than 30,000 ringneck roosters will be stocked this fall in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Opening day of the first small game (including pheasant) season is Nov. 2. It closes on Nov. 30.

First squirrel season runs Oct.19-Nov. 30. This year, the squirrel hunt is expected to be outstanding with fabulous numbers of bush tails in the southeast.

A string of mild winters has contributed to a high squirrel population.

First grouse season also runs Oct. 19-Nov. 30.

Bill Palmer, head of the PGC grouse program, acknowledges that the ruffed population is also not what it was 20 or 30 years ago but some regions of the state are better off than others.

To get grouse in the southeast region, a hunter should stay away from the flatlands and head to the mountains of Lehigh, Northampton and Schuylkill counties.

Still the grouse flushing rate in the region is only 0.85 birds per hour. With those numbers no wonder the southeast emphasis is still on pheasants, stocked or not.

Stocked birds

This year the Game Commission is placing nearly 193,000 pheasants into the wild. While the number seems solid, it's not what the state hoped to release.

"Our pheasant breeding program faced two obstacles this year," said Carl Riegner, chief of the agency's Propagation Division.

"The wet and cold spring weather killed some pheasant chicks during the brooding phase and an additional problem with commercially purchased feed caused moralities."

"Despite the setbacks, we were able to recover most of our losses by setting additional eggs. But unfortunately, we still will fall short of releasing 200,000 birds during the small game hunting seasons."

Pheasants will be stocked for four consecutive weeks in each region starting the week of Oct. 28, prior to the opening day.

Preseason releases will consist of 30 percent of the fall allocation, the first two in-season releases will be 25 percent and the third in-season release will consist of 20 percent of the fall allocation.

This year the southeast region will receive 30,220 males and 2,890 females. Remember, it is illegal to hunt female pheasants in most of the southeast region.

The exception is in Philadelphia and Delaware counties, but no birds are stocked there anyway.

As for the success of stocking of female pheasants in a zone that does not permit female pheasant hunting, one can only wonder, and hope.

The second pheasant hunting season begins Nov. 2 and runs through Nov. 30 while a third season takes place Dec. 16-Feb. 8 with no hunting on Christmas Day.

However, in the southeast, and well as much of the south-central and southwestern part of the state, there is no December hunting.

"The best opportunities to bag pheasants still exist on state game lands where habitat is managed for pheasants, and where most of the agency-raised birds are released," Riegner said.

"Although wild pheasant populations remain very low, excellent hunting opportunities can be enjoyed with the quality pheasants the commission is releasing."

To give its 193,000 birds a new home, albeit a temporary one, stocking is done on select state game lands, a number of parcel enrolled in the Cooperative Farm-Game and Safety Zone public access programs, some state parks and federal lands.

In the southeast, stocking sites are usually in game lands and parks with either extensive share-crop farming and state-maintained food plots.

At a glance
Fishing and Hunting News

What: Southeast Pennsylvania pheasant.

When: Main small game (including pheasant) season opens Nov. 2 and runs through Nov. 30.

Where: Lehigh, Chester, Berks, Lancaster, Schuylkill, York, Bucks and Montgomery counties.

Species: Stocked ringneck pheasant; also squirrel and grouse.

Stocking: Roughly 193,000 birds will be stocked across Pennsylvania this year.

Of those, 30,220 males and 2,890 females will be stocked in southeastern counties.

Information: Pennsylvania Game Commission southeast office (877-877-9470)

Where to go

Hot zones for the fall pheasant hunting include:
Marsh Creek State Park, Chester County; SGL 234, Evansburg State Park, Montgomery County; and SGL 139 and 196, Nockamixon State Park in Bucks County.

SGL 205, Lehigh County; SGL 106, 182 and 280, Blue Marsh Reservoir and Ontelaunee Reservoir in Berks County; and SGL 168 and Jacobsburg State Park in Northampton County.

In Lancaster County, look to SGL 220; SGL 80, 145, 156 and Swatara State Park in Lebanon County; and SGL 211 in Dauphin County.

SGL 106, 160, 227, 257, 286 and Tuscarora State Park in Schuylkill County are all stocked, as are SGL 83, 181, 242, 243, Codorus State Park in York County.

Two state parks in the lower southeast, Nockamixon in Bucks County and Evansburg in Montgomery County, offer excellent pheasant hunting opportunities. Both are a mix of woods and farmland.

Evansburg is anchored by Skippack Creek while Nockamixon has a 1,450-acre lake. Evansburg is located near Collegeville and Nockamixon is found near Quakertown.

In Berks County, Blue Marsh Reservoir belongs to the Army Corps of Engineers and Ontelaunee Reservoir is owned by the city of Reading.

Both lakes have wide public lands around their shores. Ontelaunee is heavily wooded with pine trees planted in perfect rows and spaces around most of its banks.

There are parts of the upper end, where Ontelaunee Creek makes its entrance that are more open. Both Blue Marsh and Ontelaunee are located near Reading.

The shoreline of Blue Marsh Reservoir contains a good deal of farmed lands.

Not far from the banks, you'll find high and low-growing crops around the 1,081-acre lake.

Speaking of crops, the southeast continues to be in the grip of a multi-year drought and this summer was particularly dry.

Because of this, much of the crops, particularly corn, look bad.

I expect farmers to rein in a lot of their crops early to harvest what they can from them.

This may make it difficult for some hunters who rely on good corn as part of their pheasant hunting strategy. Scouting very close to the season's start may be necessary.

Muddy Run Recreational Area, just west of the Susquehanna River at Holtwood, Lancaster County, is another good bet for pheasant hunting.

Large patches of this land, centered around a 90-acre lake, are only lightly wood. Much of the ground is rolling grassland.

It all makes for an interesting hunt.

In Schuylkill County, Tuscarora State Park offers a heavily wooded hunt.

Located near Barnesville this will be one of the more rugged, and steep, pheasant hunts in the southeast.

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