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October 4, 2011

MADISON - The longtime and popular tradition of pheasant hunting in Wisconsin will again take center stage for upland game hunters when the fall 2011 pheasant hunting season opens statewide at noon on Saturday, Oct. 15. The season will run through Dec. 31.

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. 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. "Given the relatively snowy winters we've had lately, I would expect hunters to fare better in areas where pheasants have had access to sufficient winter cover. When hunting wild birds, I'd definitely focus on grassy landscapes with cattails, dense warm-season grasslands, or brush close at hand," said Scott Walter, Department of Natural Resources upland wildlife ecologist. "Successful hunters should also have a number of potential hunting spots lined up and be ready to move in order to find birds," suggested Walter.

During the 2010 pheasant hunting season, an estimated 49,000 hunters went out in search of pheasants and reported harvesting 240,316 birds. The top counties for harvest included Kenosha, Fond du Lac, and Dodge.

Bag Limits

On Oct. 15 and 16, the daily bag limit is one cock and the possession limit is two. For the remainder of the season (Oct. 17 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 for the first two weeks of the season, from Oct. 17 through Nov. 3. A 2011 Pheasant Stamp is required to hunt pheasants statewide.

Pheasant Stocking Program

This fall, DNR wildlife biologists plan to release approximately 50,000 game farm pheasants on 71 public hunting grounds. This is a very slight decrease from 2010 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 will also 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.

Hunters can check the Pheasant Stocking on State Properties map or check the 2011 Pheasant Stocking Information Sheet (pdf), identifying public hunting grounds slated for pheasant stocking. Stocked public hunting grounds are primarily located in the southern part of the state, in the core of the pheasant range. Hunters should carefully verify which public hunting grounds have a 2:00 p.m. closure time and/or allow hen pheasant hunting.

More information on the 2011 pheasant population outlook is available as part of the 2011 Fall Hunting & Trapping Forecast (pdf). See the 2011 Wisconsin Small Game Hunting Regulations (pdf) for additional details.

Wild Pheasant Populations

This is the fourth year in a row of declining pheasant numbers, and the third-lowest average since the Rural Mail Carrier and Spring Crowing Count surveys were first conducted. Long and snowy winters in recent years, along with a wet and cool spring in 2008 and below-average summer temperatures in 2009, have set pheasant numbers back statewide.

"In recent years, winter and spring conditions have been very hard on Wisconsin's wild pheasant population," says Walter. Compounding this has been a significant loss of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) grassland acres in the core of Wisconsin's pheasant range. The CRP, originating with the 1985 Farm Bill, provides incentives to landowners to take environmentally sensitive acres out of crop production. These acres often produce outstanding pheasant habitat.

"The state pheasant population increased in the late 1980s through the 1990s," stated Walter. "High crop prices in the last couple years, however, have led many landowners to convert CRP acres back to crops. As a result, Wisconsin has lost more than 300,000 acres of quality wildlife habitat, nearly half of what the state enrolled at its peak. Consequently, hunters who focus on wild birds may end up flushing fewer pheasants."

While the 2011 Spring Crowing Count Survey showed a 30 percent decrease statewide, the 2011 Rural Mail Carrier (RMC) pheasant survey indicated an 11 percent increase in the number of pheasants observed per 100 miles driven (from 0.38 in 2010 to 0.42 in 2011). However, the latter results are still 28.8 percent below the long-term mean of 0.59 pheasants per 100 miles. Counties with the highest number of pheasants seen per 100 miles driven were Washington (2.82), Polk (1.51), Lafayette (1.13), St. Croix (0.83), and Pierce (0.80).

Pheasant Hunting Opportunities through the Mentored Hunting Program

2011 marks the third 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 Sharon Fandel, Assistant Upland Wildlife Ecologist, at (608) 261-8458

Last Revised: Tuesday, October 04, 2011

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