Outdoors with Forda Birds—
By John Andreoni
According to the ODNR, well over 14,000 ring-necked pheasants will be released at 24 Ohio public hunting areas this fall to provide additional hunting opportunities across the state. Prior to the regular season opener, approximately 30% of these birds will be released the day before the two youth hunting weekends on October 21-22 and October 28-29. The remaining pheasants will be released before the regular season opener on November 3, before Veterans Day, and before the Thanksgiving weekend. Since these released birds might be the only opportunity some hunters have to flush a pheasant, one should expect heavy hunting pressure immediately after the birds are released. There will be no birds released in our immediate area since there aren’t adequate public hunting lands to support such an activity.
I’ve always enjoyed pheasant hunting and over the years have probably had more good bird hunting opportunities than most. Consequently, I have watched with interest the decline of the wild pheasant in Ohio since I started hunting in the early 1950s and have to keep reminding myself that our immediate area doesn’t necessarily reflect the rest of the state. For example, if currently referenced statistics have any merit, approximately 150,000 wild pheasants will be taken from public and private Ohio lands this year. 150,000 pheasants might seem like a lot, but it hardly compares to the 750,000 birds annually bagged during Ohio’s glory years of pheasant hunting. Most will come from two prime areas, Williams and Defiance counties on the far northwest corner, and Union, Madison, Fayette, Pickaway, and Ross in the southwestern quarter of the state. Wyandot, Hardin, and Marion counties are sometimes mentioned as prime pheasant counties. Auglaize and Mercer counties are not and have never been included on Ohio’s prime pheasant hunting list.
Regardless, the number of upland game hunters has declined significantly over the years and that is reflected in surveys done every five years by the Federal Fish & Wildlife Service. Preliminary numbers of the 2016 survey show that of the 11.5 million hunters in the U.S., 9.2 million hunt big game, 3.5 million hunt small game, and 2.4 million hunt waterfowl. Ohio reflects those numbers. In 2011, as part of a similar F&WS survey, 93% of Ohio’s hunters chased big game and an estimated 35% hunted small game. The available sample was so small, the number of Ohio waterfowl hunters couldn’t be determined. In the 1991 survey, 65% of Ohio hunters hunted big game while 74% hunted small game. In 1958, Ohio hunters numbered close to 700,000. The greatest percentage of them were small game hunters. Ten years later, that number dropped to less than 500,000 with various spikes in following years.
There were many factors affecting the drop of small game hunters during that period. Pesticides, herbicides, and other farming practices eliminated habitat and the birds that it supported. Shrinking habitat increased the value of what remained, and this also reduced hunter access. The only creature that was allowed to hunt pheasants were its natural predators. Hawks and owls dined on pheasants, especially since they had nowhere to hide. The proliferation and expanding populations of coyotes plus numbers of feral cats didn’t help the situation. The bottom line is that urban sprawl, clean farming, and protected predators have made survival difficult for one of America’s finest game birds. There is a direct correlation between game population and number of hunters. As Ohio’s pheasants lost their prominent spot on Ohio’s harvestable game list, hunters have lost interest or gravitated to hunting preserves where success is all but guaranteed.
Baby-Boomers were the last generation to enjoy wild pheasant hunting in Ohio. For the most part, their numbers are dwindling and not being replaced by the Gen Xers. And then there are the Millennials. Most have little interest in activities that don’t provide instant pleasure. Slogging through heavy cover, getting dirty, and hoping for a bird or two to flush during a day doesn’t sound like fun. Trying to recruit them to become bird hunters is a difficult task but necessary for the survival of small game hunting. That’s assuming, of course, society and the hunting fraternity determine it’s worth saving.
Pheasants Forever Youth Hunt Applications are available by clicking on the Pheasants Forever ad.