Pheasant Propagation Program Overview
Pheasant hunting has a long tradition as one the most popular small game hunting activities in New York. DEC's Small Game Hunter Survey indicates that about 23,000 hunters harvest over 50,000 pheasants statewide, while spending almost 106,000 days afield annually. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, small game hunters spent approximately $600 per person per year on trip and equipment related expenses in 2006, contributing millions of dollars to the state economy.
DEC has a long history of propagating pheasants to help meet the demand for pheasant hunting opportunity. Wild populations of this introduced species have reached all-time lows. Without propagation and release programs by DEC and private entities, pheasant hunting opportunities would not exist in New York State.
DEC's Bureau of Wildlife owns and operates the Richard E. Reynolds Game Farm, the state's only pheasant production facility, located near Ithaca, New York. All pheasant production was shifted to the Reynolds Game Farm in 1999 when the John White Game Farm was closed to save money and increase efficiency. In operation since 1927, the Reynolds Game Farm propagates and distributes pheasants statewide for two distinct programs, one of which is a cooperative rearing-and-release program. All pheasants distributed through DEC programs are released on land open to the public for pheasant hunting. Private landowners allow pheasant hunting on thousands of acres through these programs. The annual operating budget for the game farm is approximately $750,000, including pheasant propagation, program administration, annual facility maintenance, and most of the pheasant distribution costs. The game farm currently has four full-time permanent staff and employs up to ten additional temporary staff during the peak of propagation activities (March-November).
Pheasant Propagation Programs
Adult Pheasant Release Program (APRP) - Familiar to most pheasant hunters, the APRP annually provides about 30,000 adult pheasants (18 weeks and older) for several fall stocking programs. Most are used for stocking more than 100 DEC-managed public hunting lands before and during the regular pheasant hunting season and two preseason youth pheasant hunt weekends. Other uses of the birds include special sponsored pheasant hunts for youth, people with disabilities, women, and novice hunters.
The second goal of New York's pheasant management plan is to provide artificially propagated pheasants to increase recreational hunting opportunities and promote participation in shooting sports throughout the state. Part of achieving this goal is designing a relatively simple, equitable process for allocating birds among DEC regions that maximizes the opportunity for hunters to use this resource. To do this, staff in the Bureau of Wildlife identified key criteria related to the department's capabilities and resources, hunter use and activity, and habitat and access constraints.
Captive-reared pheasants from Reynolds Game Farm are allocated to eight DEC regions based on the following criteria:
- Logistical Concerns - the number of birds and sites each region can stock based on available staff and resources. This was a qualitative assessment conducted by the regional biologist and the game farm manager, and ranged from "severe" to "no logistical concerns".
- Pheasant Hunting Effort - the percent of pheasant hunting effort expended in each region. This was based on hunting effort data from the Small Game Hunter Survey for four physiographic zones - North (Regions 5 and 6), Southeast (Regions 3 and 4), West (Regions 7, 8, and 9), New York City/Long Island (Region 1). Effort data were allocated to each DEC region within the four zones based on the number of small game license holders within a region (licensed hunters from New York City were apportioned to Regions 1, 3, and 4).
- Pheasant Hunters - the percent of pheasant hunters in each region. This was based on hunting participation data from the Small Game Hunter Survey for four physiographic zones - North (Regions 5 and 6), Southeast (Regions 3 and 4), West (Regions 7, 8, and 9), New York City/Long Island (Region 1). Hunting participation data were allocated to each DEC region within the four zones based on the number of small game license holders within a region (licensed hunters from New York City were apportioned to Regions 1, 3, and 4).
- Availability of Small Game Hunting Alternatives - Due to habitat and/or access constraints some regions have fewer small game hunting alternatives than others, thus stocked pheasants play a larger role in overall small game hunting opportunities. A qualitative assessment was conducted by each regional biologist to evaluate their region on a spectrum from "very good" to "poor" in terms of small game hunting alternatives. Regions with relatively few alternatives were compensated with a higher score for this criterion.
- "Useful" Season Length - In an effort to maximize the potential use of released birds, we calculated the percent of the pheasant season that was most likely to be used by the majority of pheasant hunters within a region. "Useful" season length was calculated by taking the number of days to start of the regular big game season divided by the total pheasant season length (in days).
- Regional Release Sites - the percent of pheasant release sites within a region relative to all release sites statewide. Release sites had to be separated by at least 0.5 miles to be considered independent.
- Regional Pheasant Habitat - the percent of pheasant habitat within a region relative to total pheasant habitat statewide (measured in square miles). "Pheasant habitat" includes grassland, pasture, hayfields, row crops, and emergent herbaceous wetlands.
Cooperative Day-old Pheasant Chick Program (DOCP) - Approximately 60,000 day-old chicks are hatched and distributed to cooperators in the DOCP. More than 160 applications, including thirty Cooperative Extension 4-H programs, are approved for participation in the DOCP annually. Many more clubs, individuals and youth participate in the raising and distribution of the pheasants. Each cooperator receives a specified number of day-old chicks to raise and release at no additional expense to DEC. All birds must be released on lands open for public hunting. Program participants include 4-H youth, sportsmen clubs and county federations, landowners, NYS Department of Corrections, and other individuals. DOCP cooperators allow pheasant hunting on hundreds of sites and thousands of acres of privately owned lands.
Game Farm Staff Responsibilities
Game farm staff provide information and outreach to DEC staff and program cooperators, coordinate review of cooperator applications, plan the distribution of birds, deliver most of the birds to statewide locations from Buffalo to Long Island, and maintain databases for pheasant propagation programs. All pheasant release programs require development of a detailed shipping schedule, especially the APRP. Adult pheasants are distributed prior to and during the fall pheasant hunting season from late September to mid November, including birds allocated for special sponsored hunts. Scheduling for all programs is coordinated with eight DEC regional offices and cooperators to ensure an orderly delivery of birds that accommodates staff schedules while ensuring that birds arrive in excellent condition for release.
Distribution of DEC pheasants involves a lot of preparation on the game farm, including construction and maintenance of shipping boxes and labeling of all boxes to ensure proper quantities/ratios and delivery locations, and preparation of vehicles and trailers for delivering birds across the state. During and after distribution, the shipping boxes are retrieved, cleaned, and prepared for use again or stored until next year. Approximately 6,000 shipping boxes are prepped, filled with pheasants, and delivered annually. Careful coordination and timely delivery is essential to the health of the birds and success of the program.
Game farm staff function as a nearly self-contained administrative unit, responsible for program coordination statewide as well as safe and efficient operation and maintenance of all game farm hatching and brooding facilities, outdoor rearing pens, and office and garage spaces. Permanent staff purchase equipment and supplies, process invoices and expense accounts, and hire, train, and supervise seasonal staff. Staff also provide educational programs to local school groups and sportsmen's clubs. The game farm receives a high volume of telephone calls and Department website requests for information. Staff distribute a variety of literature about pheasant habitat and pheasant propagation programs. The game farm has served as a central location for various other DEC programs such as Chronic Wasting Disease testing and the River Otter Restoration Project. Over the years, the game farm has participated and supported numerous research projects with Cornell University either directly or indirectly. The game farm conference room remains a prime meeting place for DEC teams from across the state.
The pheasant propagation program reaches thousands of New Yorker's by providing hunting and viewing opportunities. First and foremost, it provides sportsmen and sportswomen the opportunity to enjoy an open field hunting experience that is gradually disappearing with changing land use patterns across the state. The program provides access to thousands of acres of old fields and cropland where hunters can go afield and hunt pheasants. Many hunters across the state own and care for hunting dogs that are specially trained to hunt pheasants or other game birds of open fields. The cooperator programs also provide a means for youth and adults to learn about the husbandry and natural history of pheasants, with an incentive to expand areas open for public hunting and to improve habitat for grassland wildlife species. Youth and adults spend hours caring for and releasing birds propagated through the state cooperator programs. The state propagation program provides quality disease-free birds and outstanding customer service to its constituents.