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Pheasant hunting season begins today
Saturday, October 16, 2004

Pheasant hunters will be taking to the fields today - in many cases just a step behind the pheasants.

The hunting season for ring-necked pheasants, as well as quail, ruffed grouse and cottontail rabbits, opened just before dawn.

Not a native species of Massachusetts, pheasants are raised on game farms and released through the hunting season by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Some 800 birds have been released in the Connecticut Valley in recent days in anticipation of the start of the season, the first group of 10,000 birds that will be stocked in the valley through the season, which ends the Saturday after Thanksgiving. There will be 40,000 birds released statewide.

The state stocking trucks were out last night putting the last of the birds in place in state wildlife management areas and on municipal and private lands that are open to the public for hunting, said David P. Fuller, wildlife biologist for the Connecticut Valley District of the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

"We usually look for a grown-up field. It depends on where we can get to easily. Because we're putting out so many birds, we don't spend a lot of time walking them into areas. When we release them, they usually fly around in a big circle and then stay in that area in the cover," he said.

Ring-necked pheasants, which usually weigh 2 to 4 pounds, favor brushy areas, grasslands and farm fields. They were introduced to North America from China in 1881. While they have a sustaining population in many states, they do not easily survive the winter in Massachusetts and have to be restocked each year.

"They're pretty wild birds," Fuller said. "Even when you try to domesticate them, they retain that wildness. If you enter a pen of them, they will take off and fly. That wildness is what makes them so good for hunting."

More birds will be released at least once a week into six state-owned wildlife management areas in the Connecticut Valley. They are Herman Covey in Belchertown, Poland Brook in Conway and Ashfield, Montague Plains in Montague, Pauchaug Brook in Northfield, Bennett Meadows in Northfield and Gill, and the Leyden area in Leyden.

Fuller said that locations of private properties that will be stocked are not advertised, but a map of those properties can be seen at the district office in Belchertown.

During the season, hunting hours for pheasants run from dawn to dusk on state-owned wildlife management areas. On private and other lands that are open to hunters, one can hunt from a half-hour before dawn to a half-hour after sunset.

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