17 October 2023- With dogs zig-zagging through cover, birds flushing with a pulse-quickening cackle, and hunters needing to stay ready throughout, Pennsylvania’s ring-necked pheasant season always packs excitement.
And the action is about to get underway.
Saturday, Oct. 21 marks the opening of the 2023-24 statewide pheasant season, which promises to be another memorable one for Pennsylvania’s 75,000 pheasant hunters. In addition to the over 16,000 pheasants already released in early October for the youth season, the Game Commission will be stocking approximately 220,000 additional birds between now and early January.
“Releases will occur weekly from mid-October through mid-November,” said Ian Gregg, chief of the Game Commission’s Wildlife Operations Division. “A mid-December release will bolster hunting opportunity prior to the holidays, and for the third year, many sites are also scheduled to be stocked twice after Christmas for late season hunting. Increased production on our two game farms has allowed us to make these improvements to winter pheasant hunting without impacting opportunity during the traditional autumn season.”
Except for within the Central Susquehanna and Franklin County Wild Pheasant Recovery Areas, where pheasant hunting is closed, male and female pheasants are legal to harvest statewide. Although protecting hens is an important aspect of wild pheasant management, survival of propagated pheasants is too low to support sustainable populations, even without hunting mortality. While the Game Commission raises and releases pheasants at a ratio of around three males for every one female, the harvest of all pheasants is lawful and encouraged.
All adult hunters and some senior hunters who pursue pheasants are required to purchase a pheasant permit in addition to a general hunting license. The permit costs $26.97. Like a general hunting license, hunters can store a digital pheasant permit on a smart device to carry when hunting. Paper licenses and permits must be signed when carried afield. Senior lifetime resident license holders who acquired their licenses prior to May 13, 2017 are exempt from needing a pheasant permit. Junior hunters and mentored permit holders under 17 need a free permit.
Although pheasant permit revenue is not earmarked specifically for the propagation program, and does not completely offset the costs of raising and stocking pheasants, it is important in ensuring the financial sustainability of the program. Permit revenue for the 2022-23 license year was nearly $1.5 million.
“The numbers of pheasant permits issued for both adult and junior hunters have been steadily increasing since 2018,” Gregg said. “This interest level is encouraging for the future of small game hunting in Pennsylvania and it’s a great time to be a pheasant hunter. Good luck, have fun, and hunt safely!”
Because pheasant hunting in Pennsylvania relies on the release of propagated birds, hunters are wise to focus their efforts on the time periods and locations where the Game Commission stocks birds. To increase awareness of where and when pheasants will be stocked, the agency publishes an allocation table and interactive stocking locations map at www.pgc.pa.gov.
Click on “Hunt & Trap” on the upper banner, then “Hunting,” then “Small Game,” then “Stockings” under “Ring-Necked Pheasants.” A table displays the number of pheasants to be released in each Game Commission region.
Click on a region to see the number of male and female pheasants planned for stocking in each county for each release, as well as the range of dates for each release, and a listing of each property to be stocked.
Click on the interactive map of pheasant stocking locations to see the more than 200 properties that are scheduled to be stocked. Click on an individual pheasant icon to see the property name, the number of releases, and number of birds released last year to get an idea of large versus small release areas. Users can also zoom in to see pink highlighted areas representing areas of best pheasant hunting habitat where birds are most likely to be found.
The pheasant season runs from Oct. 21-Nov. 24, including Sundays Nov. 12 and Nov. 19; Dec. 11-23, and then Dec. 26-Feb. 29. The limit is two birds daily with six in possession.
Learn to Hunt
For those new to hunting pheasants, the Game Commission has created an online resource that provides the information needed to be successful. The “Learn to Hunt: Pheasants” webinar is available on the Game Commission’s Learn to Hunt webpage http://bit.ly/pgclearntohunt and YouTube channel.
Handling harvested wild birds
Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) viruses can be carried by wild birds and have been found across the Pennsylvania landscape. To protect themselves and to reduce the risk of spreading this extremely contagious disease to other birds, hunters are advised to practice the following precautions:
- Have dedicated footwear, clothing, and tools that are only used for handling or dressing harvested wild birds.
- Do not handle or harvest wild birds that appear sick or are found dead.
- Wear gloves when handling or dressing harvested wild birds.
- Do not eat, drink, or smoke when handling or dressing harvested wild birds.
- Dress harvested wild birds in the field.
- Double bag any offal and feathers that will be removed from the field.
- Wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer immediately after handling or dressing harvested wild birds.
- Wash all tools and work surfaces with soap and water after using them, then disinfect with a 10% household bleach solution. Allow to air dry or rinse after 10 minutes of contact time.
- Change footwear and clothing before coming in contact with any domestic poultry or pet birds.
While influenza viruses can infect humans, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared that currently in the United States “viruses circulating in birds are believed to pose a low risk to the general public”.
Any sick or dead domestic birds should be reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture at 717-772-2852.
Sick or dead wild birds should be reported to the Game Commission at 1-833-PGC-WILD or online using the Wildlife Health Survey tool at www.pgcapps.pa.gov/WHS.