BY TYLER FRANTZ
Frosty mornings illuminated by golden sunlight; the steadily ringing bell of a hard-working hunting dog; the thrill of a cackling cock bird rapidly climbing in altitude — each is a satisfying aspect of pheasant hunting, but they all come with a price tag.
Pennsylvania pheasant hunters are required to purchase a special permit for hunting the colorful upland game bird in our state, and while some scoff at the idea of paying extra for such opportunities, others view it as a reasonable investment in hunting enjoyment. At first glance the $26.90 price might seem a bit steep for privileges that used to be included in a general hunting license at no additional cost, but it’s still a bargain for pheasant hunting in Pennsylvania — and it’s still free for youth hunters who register for the permit. By comparison, I wouldn’t think twice about spending that same amount on Friday night takeout, a case of Yuengling Oktoberfest or a subscription to my favorite hunting magazine. So, why would I hesitate to purchase hunting rights for a season that opens on and off for the better part of five months?
Think of all the chances to enjoy time afield, with the Pennsylvania pheasant seasons Oct. 24-Nov. 27, Dec. 14-24 and Dec. 26-Feb. 27. There is a bag limit of two daily and six in possession after opening day, and male and female pheasants may be taken in all wildlife management units statewide — excluding wild pheasant recovery areas.
According to Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife research biologist Tom Keller, plenty of birds will be spread across the state’s carefully managed state game lands, offering prime opportunities for pheasant hunters. Recognizing hunters are paying more for their right to participate, habitat crews have been hard at work preparing high-quality stocking locations for the fall seasons.
“This habitat will be stocked with over 220,000 pen-reared birds in 2020-21, and upland hunters will enjoy a mix of forbs and warm-season grasses found in reverting field complexes,” Keller said in a recent Pheasants Forever PA Hunting Forecast report. “This management not only benefits pheasants, but many other game and non-game species through solid food and cover going into the fall and winter months.”
Hunters seeking access to the state’s top pheasant hunting locations can refer to the PGC’s Interactive Stocking Map, which can be found by clicking the “Pheasant Hunting” section of the Quick Links Tab on the agency’s website at www.pgc.pa.gov. This map is updated throughout the season to include all properties where birds are released, as well as how many birds are stocked in each area.
Not only does it show the properties, but it identifies the likeliest areas to find pheasants based on habitat. It also allows users to zoom in with an aerial view to discover potential hunting spots, access points, where to park and is an indispensable tool for pheasant hunters.
As for the hunting itself, those pursuing pheasants can find the greatest success by employing the skills of an experienced hunting dog as it quarters into the wind, locates and flushes wary birds from cover as the hunter takes careful aim nearby. It’s my favorite way to hunt and personally justifies the cost of the permit just to get out with my dog.
While hunting with a favorite pup is a true joy and reward in itself, it isn’t absolutely necessary for success, as birds can still be flushed without the assistance of a four-legged companion. Simply suit up with a good pair of brush pants, gloves and a solid jacket that can withstand snags, and head for the nasty stuff.
As birds receive more and more hunting pressure, they will likely press further into wooded cover, vacating the obvious grass fields they prefer but also generate more attention from hunters throughout the day. Don’t overlook the ugly bramble patch on the outskirts of the fields that no one wants to walk through, but those willing to brave the briars often are rewarded for their efforts with a resilient rooster or two.
A 12-guage shotgun with No. 5 or 6 high-brass shot is preferred, and if you have the ability to use multiple chokes — either in an over-under or side-by-side double barrel — having an improved cylinder for close shots and a modified choke for fleeing shots can give an extra advantage in catching up to your target at varied ranges.
If cooked properly, pheasant can rival chicken in virtually all poultry recipes, and if shooting enough of them throughout the season, a permit pays for itself in comparison to store-bought chicken. Just be sure to cook it low and slow while adding plenty of moisture to prevent drying out.
Consider wrapping pheasant with bacon and smoking it, making it in the slow cooker — reserving the excess stock and meat portions for soups or stews. Dice it to fry with soy and teriyaki sauce for an Asian-inspired stir fry, or have with peppers, onions and hot sauce dressed with ranch and chopped cabbage for one of the best buffalo wraps you’ll ever taste.
While the added expense of a pheasant permit may deter some from pursuing a highly rewarding pastime in Pennsylvania, I for one see it as a worthy investment and intend to continue making the most of money well spent.
Tyler Frantz is board chairman for the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association. Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org