TETON COUNTY — Pheasant hunting season opens Saturday, October 7th, and to prepare, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks has been releasing pheasants in wildlife management areas across the state.
Nearly 14,000 birds will be released as part of the legislative program which funds up to $1 million dollars into the raising and release of pheasants. That’s up from last year’s release numbers of roughly 7,000 birds. Next year, FWP plans to double their output once again. The legislative funding can support up to 50,000 released pheasants.
Inmates at Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge help to incubate, hatch, and raise the birds before they are collected by FWP for release. Of the birds released fifty percent are male and fifty percent are female, though the hens are not allowed to be harvested.
FWP is looking into a potential new tactic to preserve their hens as best as possible, since the survivorship for pheasants over the winter is extremely low.
“We are considering releasing hens earlier in the year instead of closer to hunting season. They would have those several months to be in the wild, get used to the area that they're in and perhaps have a better chance of overwintering and increasing populations,” says Deb O’Neill, who’s in charge of special projects at FWP in Helena.
The state of Montana and FWP began the program as part of an effort to attract more bird hunters and increase retention rates. The number of purchased licenses on both upland game-bird hunting and migratory bird hunting had been regressing for years. By increasing the amount of pheasants on a hunting ground, hunters can increase the likelihood of a successful hunt.
FWP also hopes this will help attract young people into the world of hunting.
“If you engage people in hunting, they learn more about the values of hunting and how valuable it is to conservation efforts in the state,” says O’Neill.