Hunters gear up for pheasant-hunting season in Cumberland, York counties

Posted Sept. 16, 2010, at 2:45 p.m.

BY SCOTT LINDSAY

MDIF&W REGIONAL WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST/ADMINISTRATOR, PHEASANT PROGRAM

AUGUSTA — Prospects for the 2010 Maine pheasant hunting season from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31 are looking good!

While the birds have thrived in many environments such as Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, and the Dakotas as well as others. pheasants have not established a viable breeding population in Maine due to a combination of mortality associated with the harsh winters and a scarcity of standing grain crops for winter forage.

Maine runs a “put and take”-style pheasant hunting program in two southern Maine counties, Cumberland and York.

In a typical year, Maine purchases 6-week-old chicks from a commercial breeder and volunteer sportsmen’s clubs raise the chicks from six weeks to approximately 20 weeks old, when they are fully grown and strong fliers in their full fall plumage. The birds then are released at both public and private properties that offer good pheasant cover.

These property owners have agreed to be a part of the pheasant program and to permit access to hunters. The release sites usually number about two dozen, but there may be changes, annually. An updated list of the release sites can be found at www.mefishwildlife.com (On the website, select hunting, then hunting information, then pheasant).

Stocking begins just prior to the opening of the upland bird season on or about Oct. 1 and continues through the season until the end of December, though most of the stocking occurs in October, per hunter request.

Hunters must purchase a pheasant permit in addition to their regular hunting license and are permitted two birds a day of either sex. The permits cost $19 again this year, but a rise in program costs and a desire to expand the program to other counties may dictate a rise in the near future. Of the $19, $17 goes to the program and $2 goes to the vendor who sells the permits. The stamps are available online or from the normal license vendors. With prices at local shooting preserves exceeding $30 per pheasant released (not necessarily harvested) the pheasant permit is considered a very good value for the hunter.

Pheasants are a particularly good game bird to hunt with dogs because despite the fact that they prefer to run from predators, including hunters. They will at times hold tight. When they eventually explode from heavy cover with their unique cackle and a thunderous wing beat they can startle unprepared hunters and dogs. Many a bird has escaped without a shot being fired while the hunter recovered his or her composure. They also are a good bird to start young hunters on because they will eventually hold and can be a larger and more predictable target for new shooters than the fast and erratic flying woodcock or partridge.

Last year was a tough year for the program. Sportsmen clubs experienced an unusually high mortality rate of the young chicks during the raising phase. Rainy weather, disease, and predation by an extremely effective mink decimated the pen populations to the point where adult birds had to be purchased at a higher cost to provide an adequate number of birds for the number of pheasant permits purchased.

For the upcoming season Maine has contracted for all adult birds, thus avoiding all the work of raising the birds as well as the risk of losses. What this means for hunters is that they will have reliable opportunity to kick up a bird or two this year for the same price throughout the season. The funding to buy adult birds comes only from actual permit sales the preceding year. Based on the number of permit sales last year, we hope to put almost 2,200 birds in the field, about twice as many as last year.

Hunters can help themselves by talking up the program with their friends and encouraging them to buy a permit. Participation and support from the partnering fish and game clubs are vital. With expanding stamp sales, the program can potentially grow larger to include additional release sites in Cumberland and York counties and even additional counties in the state, if there is sufficient support. New Hampshire has had such a program for years and through their higher stamp sales they have expanded their program to all counties and they put out 13,500 birds last year. There is no reason why Maine cannot do the same. It just takes permit sales.

Dog trainers are discouraged from training their dogs at the release sites after they are stocked but before the season opens to avoid scattering the birds off the sites. For additional information, see the MDIF&W website at www.mefishwildlife.com.

For more information, contact MDIF&W Regional Wildlife Biologist Scott Lindsay at 657-2345

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