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Budget cuts, spring weather impact pheasant forecast

As Saturday approaches, the opening day outlook for the 2004 pheasant season appears pessimistic if stocked birds are your target, a bit more optimistic if your aim is to flush wild roosters.

Due to budget cuts, the Department of Natural Resources has reduced the number of pheasants it normally stocks on selected state-owned wildlife areas.

From a high of nearly 60,000 birds in 2002, the agency trimmed its stocking quota to about 30,000 pheasants in 2003 and dropped that figure even further, to 19,000 birds, this year, said Andrea Mezera, DNR assistant upland wildlife ecologist.

If the department obtains the hunting license fee increases it requested - and which appear to have the support of Gov. Jim Doyle - "that will definitely help increase" the number of pheasants that might be available for stocking in 2005, she said.

Wild pheasants, on the other hand, appear to be doing quite well on their own. Spring crowing counts, taken annually to assess winter survival, indicated an upswing in pheasant numbers.

However, it was expected that, because of unusually cold, rainy weather during the May and June breeding season, pheasant reproduction would take a strong hit, and noticeably fewer birds would be on hand this fall as a result.

DNR wildlife biologists, after reviewing summer brood counts, have found evidence that reproduction might not have been as poor as anticipated.

"We had very good spring crowing counts," said Jeff Pritzl, DNR wildlife biologist for Manitowoc County, "and the situation doesn't seem to be as bad as initially thought.

"There definitely was some production. It now looks as if we're looking at an average or slightly below average season on wild birds in this area."
Tim Lizotte, DNR wildlife biologist at Oshkosh, said, "preliminary reports indicate the number of pheasant broods is not down as much as I would have expected. I think that's partly due to the birds' ability to renest."
Renesting readily occurs among game birds, including ducks, turkeys, grouse and pheasants. If a female's nest, including eggs, is destroyed by weather (flood) or predator before any of the eggs hatch, she is likely to renest. That means her chicks, which originally would have been born in early June, might hatch in mid- to late July.

Keith Koskey, president of the Upland Chapter of Pheasants Forever, said anecdotal reports indicate renesting took place in northeastern Marathon County.

"We had people tell us they've seen pheasant broods - the biggest was 14 chicks, the lowest was two. They've reported evidence of late hatches. Some of the birds appear to have been born as late as August."
Even with some reproduction, Koskey said, "we haven't seen the number of birds we did last year. The pheasant population here appears to be definitely down from a year ago."
Lizotte said hunting prospects for wild pheasants on more than 70 properties within the DNR's Glacial Habitat Restoration Area in Winnebago, Fond du Lac, Dodge and Columbia counties "appears to be the same as last year and I thought 2003 was a good year."
The towns of Oakfield and Rosendale in Fond du Lac County are two areas with a fair volume of public lands under DNR or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service management that have habitat suitable for wild pheasants, Lizotte said.

The DNR has maps showing the location of public lands within the Restoration Area. Hunters can find them on the department's Web site ( under wildlife management, then wildlife recreation lands).

"You can actually make your own map of a specific wildlife area" by using the Web site's mapping capabilities, Lizotte added.

He cautions hunters that the successful pursuit of wild pheasants usually requires a well-trained dog, patience and legwork. Running birds, wild flushes and strong flights should be expected.

"A location with wild pheasants may hold more birds than some of the stocked areas, but wild birds are more able to avoid humans," he said. "It's definitely harder hunting, but for those who enjoy hunting, it's more of a true hunt."
With renesting resulting in late broods, hunters can expect to encounter some barely mature birds, Lizotte said.
The pheasant season opens at noon Saturday. Hunters are required to have a small game license ($16). Anyone hunting pheasants within the state's designated pheasant management counties (Page 23 in 2004 Wisconsin Small Game Hunting Regulations) also must purchase a $7.25 pheasant stamp.

Central Wisconsin counties in the pheasant management area include Brown, Outagamie, Winnebago, Green Lake, Fond du Lac, Columbia, Dodge, Calumet, Manitowoc and Sheboygan.

Some of the more popular public hunting grounds in central Wisconsin slated to receive stocked pheasants include El Dorado and Millet Creek wildlife areas in Fond du Lac County, Horicon and Mud Lake wildlife areas in Dodge County, White River and Grand River wildlife areas in Green Lake County, Holland Wildlife Area in Brown County, Brillion and Killsnake wildlife areas in Calumet County and Besadny Wildlife Area in Kewaunee County.

Jim Lee is an outdoors writer for Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers. He may be reached at 715-845-0605 or by e-mail at jlee@wdh

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