Lynn Appelman was shocked when the Pennsylvania Game Commission announced the pheasant allocation for the upcoming hunting season.
Last September, two of the agency's pheasant farms were devastated by flooding. Approximately 40,000 pheasants either escaped or were washed away when flood water ravaged the Loyalsock and Northcentral game farms in Lycoming County in 2011.
The agency hoped to double it's pheasant allocation the following year to 200,000, but many feared the flood waters dealt a fatal blow.
"I thought there was no way to get to 200,000 when I saw the devastation last year at the game farms," said PGC commissioner Jay Delaney, who represents the northeast region.
Last week, however, that goal was met when the agency announced this year's pheasant allocation doubled the 100,000 annual production mark in place since 2005.
"I was shocked," said Appelman, who is president of the Central Susquehanna Chapter of Pheasants Forever. "I couldn't believe it. Bob Boyd (PGC's wildlife services division chief in charge of pheasant propagation) and the pheasant farm crews deserve a hand for this."
Delaney called the return to 200,000 "a miracle," adding the move should ignite interest in small game hunting in general.
He hoped it would help the sport recover from the hunter losses that occurred when financial shortfalls forced the agency to slash its pheasant production in half – from 200,000 to 100,000 – in 2005.
"Many pheasant hunters were up in arms, but without a license fee increase a return to 200,000 wasn't going to happen," Delaney said. "Later, we found money through Marcellus Shale."
Money realized through Marcellus Shale leases on State Game Lands allowed the agency to return to the 200,000-bird level, and now it's hoped that hunter numbers will take a similar jump.
Appelman said the number of pheasant hunters dropped after 2005 from over 100,000 to 80,000 as a result of the decreased allocation. Fewer birds in the field meant less interest in the sport, he said.
Now, with a allocation that has doubled and a wild pheasant recovery program that is showing signs of success in areas, Appelman said there are plenty of reasons for pheasant hunters to be excited.
"Pheasant hunting looks better now than in 30 years," he said. "We're on the right track and it's energized a lot of pheasant hunters."
Delaney hopes to see results in the next few years as more hunters buy bird dogs and return to the sport.
He thinks it will happen, and the benefits will extend to all small game hunting.
"Pennsylvania pheasant hunters wanted this," Delaney said.
Returning to the 200,000 production level was only one step in the process. The Game Commission also had to determine how to allot the pheasants to counties that would provide suitable habitat and plenty of hunting opportunity.
In the northeast region, Bradford and Luzerne counties will realize the biggest jump. Bradford will receive 5,610 pheasants this year, compared to 1,010 in 2010. Luzerne will get 4,140 pheasants, 2,300 more than the 2010 allocation of 1,790.
Delaney said habitat improvement projects, such as the work done on public land near the Francis Walter Dam in Bear Creek, were responsible for the increased allocations in some counties.
Pheasants will be released in four in-season stockings, up from two during previous years. Appelman said the increase in stockings will help spread out hunting pressure, meaning more pheasants should remain in the field.
"The latter two weeks of the season should be really good after turkey comes in and diverts even more pressure," he said.
A comparison of this year's pheasant allocation and the numbers released in 2010 in the northeast (by county):
Wyoming 640 1,170
Susquehanna 1,000 2,800
Pike 1,280 3,540
Monroe 1,090 3,260
Luzerne 1,790 4,140
Bradford 1,010 5,610
Northeast Region 13,500 31,680
Pheasants Forever Local Chapter 803, in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Game Commission and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will hold a mentored youth pheasant hunt on State Game Lands 119 on Oct. 6. Participating youths must be between the ages of 12 and 16 and have successfully completed a hunter safety course. Volunteers with hunting dogs and mentors are also needed. For more information, visit www.nepapf.org or contact Corey Wiesel at 570-282-6346.
Pheasants Forever Chapter 803 meets on the third Wednesday of each month, at 7 p.m., at the Farmers Inn on Hillside Road in Trucksville.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission will offer public tours of its four game farms on Sunday, Sept. 30. Guided tours are scheduled to begin at noon and conclude by 3 p.m., rain or shine, at the game farms in Armstrong, Crawford and Lycoming (two farms) counties.
Tour stops will include hatcheries, brooder houses, and rearing, "grow-out" and over-wintering pens. Workshop discussions will focus on objectives in propagation management, including sportsmen's organizations participating in raising day-old chicks provided by the farms to increase local hunting opportunities and surplus day-old hen chicks that are sold to the public. Also, after registration and before taking the tour, visitors may view a brief DVD highlighting farm operations throughout the year.
When visitors arrive on tour dates, they will be asked to register before game farm personnel take them on a guided tour. In order to maintain biosecurity and minimize human contact with the birds, visitors will be asked to remain with tour groups.
Directions to the local game farms are as follows:
Loyalsock Game Farm: Lycoming County, 136 Game Farm Rd., Montoursville, PA 17754. The game farm is five miles north of Montoursville on Route 87, but the Route 973 bridge over the Loyalsock Creek still is out due to last year's flood. The game farm is 1.5 miles east of Warrensville on Route 973. Follow Warrensville Road 5.7 miles north to Warrensville from the Warrensville Road exit (Exit 23) of Interstate 80. Tour starts at the hatchery.
Northcentral Game Farm: Lycoming County, 1609 Proctor Rd., Williamsport, PA 17701. The game farm is 18 miles north of Montoursville off of Route 87. Tour starts at the hatchery of the Proctor (northern) farm.