posted on August 09, 2004 00:00
A number of changes have occurred over the years that have directly affected pheasant hunting on stocked public hunting grounds. This includes a reduction in the number of pheasants purchased for stocking, a loss of public hunting access to privately-owned lands under state leases or agreements, changes in stocking methods and other restrictions on state-owned properties available for public hunting. With increasing costs and a declining base of hunters supporting the stocking program, the need to obtain more input from sportsmen was very evident.
A survey to assess the attitudes, opinions and preferences of public land pheasant hunters was initiated in July 2001 as part of the DEP Wildlife Division’s ongoing evaluation of the pheasant stocking program. The results of the survey have been compiled and are currently under review. Based on the review, several changes may be implemented during the upcoming pheasant hunting season.
The Wildlife Division retained Curriculum Research and Evaluation, Inc., as a private contractor and external evaluator to assist in the survey design, conduct data analysis and prepare a final report. Survey questionnaires were mailed to a stratified random sample of approximately 2,000 of the 9,668 individual hunters who purchased pheasant harvest tags during the previous fall season. The distribution of surveys was based on hunter residence and the number of surveys mailed was proportional to the number of pheasant hunters residing in a particular town. All Connecticut townships were represented. Pheasant hunters were most eager to provide their input and opinions as noted by the fact that 60 percent of the hunters receiving surveys responded to the six-page questionnaire. A total of 424 surveys were used for statistical analysis.
The primary objectives of the survey were to develop a hunter profile, determine the strengths and weaknesses of the current stocking program and determine the most popular directions for potential future changes. The survey sought responses from a variety of categories pertinent to one’s public pheasant hunting experiences and respondents were asked to qualify their responses through additional comments. This included a critique of the current program, termed “quality indicators,” and examined responses to various statements about the hunter’s personal experiences. Hunters were also asked to provide a satisfaction rating and explain their primary reason for their response. Respondents were asked about their expectations and priorities in the field and preferences for changes to the distribution methods currently used. Future policy changes, including the level of support for youth hunting opportunities, volunteer involvement, restricted access hunting, regulatory changes and future funding options, were also examined. Finally, respondents were asked to provide information about themselves in an effort to create a demographic profile of the public land pheasant hunter.
Following are some highlights from the survey.
The average pheasant hunter is male, 44.5 years of age, a graduate of the Connecticut Conservation Education/Firearms Safety Program, has 18 years hunting experience and does not hunt pheasants as a member of a private hunting club. Respondents hunted public lands an average of 12 days, with an average harvest of 3.3 pheasants. Sixty-four percent hunted with a dog. Eighty- five percent of respondents hunted other types of game besides pheasants, including deer (66%), turkey (39%), waterfowl (37%) and other small game (54%).
Pheasant hunters were not willing to travel far to reach public hunting areas. Most respondents indicated they would only be willing to travel 30 miles or less. Hunters obtain most of their information about the stocking program from DEP’s Hunting and Trapping Guide. Half of those responding indicated that a DEP conservation officer had checked them in the field while pheasant hunting.
Eight percent of hunters reported taking a full seasonal limit of 10 pheasants. Twenty-six percent were unsuccessful and reported no pheasants taken. Harvest rates for those hunting with dogs were disproportionately higher, with an average take of 4.2 pheasants compared to those who didn’t hunt with a dog (1.3 average). Hunters using a dog harvested 87 percent of the total pheasants reported taken.
Weekday hunting opportunities were equally as important as Saturdays, with respect to when hunters did most of their pheasant hunting.
Policy or Regulation Changes/Funding Options
Seventy percent of hunters indicated that they had hunted on controlled access Permit-Required Hunting Areas in the past. Nearly half (49%) did not support restricting hunting access to additional state-owned areas through similar measures. Respondents were equally divided about the convenience of obtaining daily hunting permits; however, 61% supported the idea of a future telephone or computer-based reservation system for access permits.
The majority (85%) of hunters felt that the current cost of their hunting license and pheasant tag fees are reasonable. In addition, 68% favored an increase in the price of pheasant tags to raise additional supporting revenue for the stocking program. Of those supporting fee increases, 79 percent indicated they would be willing to pay up to $10 in additional tag fees. The most popular suggested increase was $5.00. Many hunters qualified their responses in that they would expect more pheasants to be stocked as a result of increased costs to participate.
Priorities and Expectations
Hunters supported the current daily bag limit of two and seasonal bag limit of 10 pheasants. Respondents were evenly divided when asked about allowing the purchase of additional sets of pheasant tags by the most successful hunters. Similarly, they were only slightly more in favor of eliminating the tagging system as an enforcement tool altogether.
Pheasant hunters have as their top priority the ability to hunt under safe conditions, followed by the chance to at least see pheasants in the field. Hunting under uncrowded conditions and hunting in suitable cover and habitat ranked third and fourth in importance, respectively. Successful harvest of pheasants was ranked as least important to those responding to the survey.
Pheasant hunters showed strong support for an expansion of youth hunting opportunities on public lands. Eighty-six percent agreed with closing selected state areas for youth-only pheasant hunting and training events.
Most respondents supported the use of additional volunteers to assist in supplemental stocking efforts. Sixty percent also supported payment of additional fees for an access stamp, with proceeds to be used for an enhanced leasing program for public hunting access on privately-owned lands.
Critique of Program/Quality Indicators
Fifty-eight percent of the respondents felt that there are too many hunters using public lands for pheasant hunting. Most hunters also indicated that there was too much competition from other hunters. Unsportsmanlike behavior was not a problem for most hunters; however, 50% indicated that over-bagging was still a problem on public hunting areas.
In general, most hunters have witnessed a decline in conditions for pheasant hunting over the past five-year period. Seventy-four percent did not agree that hunting for pheasants is better now than it was in the past. When asked to rate their level of satisfaction and the overall quality of the stocking program, the majority indicated that they were generally dissatisfied. The primary reason given was that there were simply not enough pheasants being stocked, with 75% of respondents indicating that insufficient numbers of birds are being provided in the field.
Feedback from respondents was mostly positive regarding DEP employees involved with pheasant stocking activities. Sixty-two percent agreed or strongly agreed that employees were doing a good job in the field.
Preferred Stocking Methods
Respondents indicated the most support for not closing any hunting areas on days that stocking takes place. They also indicated strong support for maintaining the current number of available pheasant hunting sites in an effort to distribute hunting pressure and meet hunting demand. Only 32% of respondents agreed there were enough areas currently being stocked with pheasants. Hunters did, however, recognize that some marginal areas with poor habitat or reduced acreage may need to be deleted from the list of areas to be stocked.
Eighty-two percent of hunters responding to the survey indicated preference for a more equal distribution of pheasants throughout the seven-week fall distribution period. Specifically, hunters did not want to continue with a higher percentage of pheasants stocked for the “opening day” period as in the past. Increasing the frequency of stocking on all areas was also preferred by most hunters. Seventy-one percent did not agree that hunting areas were being stocked frequently enough.
The results of the survey show that there is much work to be done to improve public land pheasant hunting. It is also obvious that the Connecticut pheasant hunter would like to see improvements to the program. Some changes, such as a more equalized distribution of pheasants, are relatively easy to accomplish and will be implemented for the upcoming fall 2002 season. Other modifications will require regulatory or legislative action, and some will require additional consideration, evaluation or input from user groups. The Wildlife Division recognizes that hunters highly value the opportunity provided to them through the current program and looks forward to the prospects for future improvements.