MADISON - The longtime and popular tradition of pheasant hunting in Wisconsin will again take center stage when the fall 2012 pheasant hunting season opens statewide at noon on Saturday, Oct. 20. The season will run through Dec. 31.
Several other seasons also open that day including bobwhite quail, ruffed grouse in the southern zone, sharp-tailed grouse and Hungarian partridge. Like pheasant, bobwhite quail and Hungarian partridge open at noon. Ruffed and sharp-tailed grouse open with the start of legal shooting hours.
Hunters should check the Wisconsin Small Game Hunting Regulations booklet for rules and season structures for the game species they will pursue.
"Pheasant hunting really provides an outstanding outdoor experience, and one that complements our other upland bird hunting opportunities in Wisconsin very well," Walter says. "There's just something pretty magical about following a good dog through thigh-high grass, working toward a rooster's flush. It gets hunters out into landscapes and habitats they may not otherwise experience, during a great time of year when leaves are turning and winter's just around the corner," added Walter.
Pheasants are among the most sought-after game birds in North America, and populations do best in the agricultural landscape of southern Wisconsin provided there is habitat present in sufficient quantities to meet their food and cover needs throughout the year, according to Scott Walter, Department of Natural Resources upland wildlife ecologist.
Walter says hunters should look for areas that contain adequate winter cover, such as cattail marshes and dense brush, intermixed with cropland, hay, and idle grasslands which provide food and nesting cover. It will be important for hunters to identify areas with high-quality habitat, concentrating their hunting efforts in those areas.
During the 2011 pheasant hunting season, an estimated 44,886 hunters went out in search of pheasants and reported harvesting 178,722 birds. The top counties for harvest included Fond du Lac, Dodge, and Polk.
On Oct. 20 and 21, the daily bag limit is one cock and the possession limit is two. For the remainder of the season (Oct. 22 through Dec. 31), the daily bag limit is two cocks and the possession limit is four. Some public hunting grounds offer both hen and rooster pheasant hunting, which requires a free permit and tags, and some properties also have 2 p.m. closure times. The 2 p.m. closure restrictions are only in effect on weekdays from Oct. 22 through Nov. 3. A 2012 Pheasant Stamp is required to hunt pheasants statewide.
This fall, DNR wildlife biologists plan to release about 54,000 game farm pheasants on 70 public hunting grounds. This is an increase from 2011 when 51,000 game farm pheasants were stocked in those same areas. In addition, pheasants raised by conservation clubs through the Day-old Chick Program [http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/lands/gamefarm.html] also will be released this fall on both designated public hunting grounds and private lands open to public pheasant hunting. Hunters are reminded to be polite and notify the landowner before hunting on private property open to public hunting as part of this program.
More information on the 2012 pheasant population outlook is available as part of the 2012 Fall Hunting & Trapping Forecast [PDF]. See the 2012 Wisconsin Small Game Hunting Regulations for additional details.
For the fourth time in the past five years, results from the 2012 Rural Mail Carrier (RMC) pheasant survey showed a decrease in the number of pheasants seen during the April survey period. The counties with the highest number of pheasants seen per 100 miles driven were Lafayette, Fond du Lac Polk, Pierce, and Dunn.
Results from the 2012 Spring Pheasant Crowing Count Survey indicate that rooster abundance is essentially unchanged from 2011. However, survey results showed considerable variation, as some areas showed large increases in the number of roosters heard while others showed large decreases.
Conditions were good for pheasant production this spring and summer.
"Cold, snowy winters and wet springs from 2008 through 2011 were hard on Wisconsin's wild pheasant population," says Walter. "We'll see some rebound due to good weather for production this spring and summer, but long-term population growth will be limited by habitat availability, and we're seeing many acres of quality grassland and wetland habitat returned to agricultural production."
Pheasant Hunting Opportunities through the Mentored Hunting Program
2012 marks the fourth year of the Mentored Hunting Program, which allows hunters age 10 or older, born on or after Jan. 1, 1973, to obtain a hunting license and hunt without first completing Hunter Education, provided they hunt with a mentor and comply with all of the requirements under the program.
For additional information and the requirements of the program, visit the Mentored Hunting Program page of the DNR website.
"Pheasant hunting's popularity reflects the fact that it's simply a wonderful outdoor activity, for both experienced and novice hunters alike," said Walter. "I hope everyone gets out there this fall. With the cool fall breezes, leaves changing color, good friends by your side, and perhaps a few pheasants, everyone can expect to reap the ultimate reward from their days afield - good memories and great companionship."
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Scott Walter, Upland Wildlife Ecologist, at (608) 267-7861 or Krista McGinley, Assistant Upland Wildlife Ecologist, at (608) 261-8458