Two weeks away, as I write this, from the opening of Alberta’s real pheasant season, and seldom is heard a discouraging word from upland country about the state of our wild pheasant populations.
Landowners have been reporting encouraging numbers of pheasants strolling around their spreads – even on their lawns – suggesting that the survivors of three hard winters and springs have done their duty and enjoyed good breeding conditions this year.
The big, old roosters are strutting around harems of mature hens and family groups of many smaller, partially fledged young of the year.
A few hunters have checked in after doing their duty by going out on Alberta Hunting Day last month, reporting that they found few Hungarian, or grey partridges, on which the season was open, but did flush a few wild pheasants, on which the season would not be open until October 15th.
From Montana’s fine wild pheasant country, which many Alberta hunters enjoy, come reports of a population recovery to the expectation of a better than average pheasant season the closer you get to the Alberta border.
It is no secret that, from my first days hunting pheasants around Brooks after the war,
I have been a staunch admirer of the Asian immigrant Chinese ring neck pheasant, which persists in not just surviving, but thriving in the too frequent harsh conditions in what has to be the extreme edge of pheasant range in North America.
I can recall severe spring blizzards in the Eastern Irrigation District that left thousands of dead pheasants with the tell-tale choking ball of ice in their gaping beaks.
Fears were expressed that the entire pheasant population had been extirpated, yet there were obviously survivors because, given a couple of good years, the populations always came back up to where they should be.
Even the two stupid years when “they” decided to legalize the shooting of hens, while they came close, could not wipe out Alberta’s resilient wild pheasants.
The quality pheasant hunting in Alberta is produced solely by our wild pheasant population, and that is why I see red at the current crowing that “another Alberta pheasant season has been assured” just because Upland Birds Alberta lobbied the government into one more year of planting 16,000-odd male pheasants at public expense, mostly at Designated Pheasant Release Sites, for quick slaughter by shooters, not hunters.
Having expressed that view before, I get frequent whines from readers who claim they don’t know where to go, or have no place to go to hunt wild pheasants.
The sniveling commenced shortly after we started dumping cannon fodder hatchery roosters at the designated killing grounds, and it is pitiful, because the opportunities to hunt wild pheasants are now more plentiful and varied in Alberta than ever they were in the more than 60 years I have been hunting them.
The pheasant cover on private land, thanks, mainly to the Partners In Habitat Development program, is starting to look again like it did back in the days when Brooks was known as “the pheasant capital of North America.”
Former pheasant hunters seem to have forgotten that it is still possible to ask, and receive, permission to hunt on private land.
First, go to the County office and buy the current edition of the landowner map which makes easier to locate owners of good looking pheasant habitat.
If the County is Newell and the city is Brooks, and you don’t like asking permission, the Eastern Irrigation District office is well worth a visit.
Register to hunt the EID’s rangeland (you need no other permission — just follow the simple rules) and get their map of 600,000 wonderful acres that have taken me a lifetime to explore and find the preferred pheasant habitats on it.
BROAD HINT: Pheasants like it in the thick stuff around the many sloughs and lakes and along the creeks or “drains” between them and into the rivers.
The willow thickets and bull berry hells, especially down in the river bottoms, are often productive.
CAUTION: This is wild pheasant hunting at its best, never easy, always challenging, for roosters “that are 19 years old,” as my late father, the Guv, used to say.
There are many other tracts of pheasant country where no permission to hunt is needed in irrigation and irrigation fringe areas near Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Taber, Milk River, and so on. To find them, dig out 2011 – 2012 Discover Alberta’s Wild Side — Annual Outdoor Adventure Guide most of us received from the Alberta Conservation Association earlier this year and locate many of the sites listed as having pheasants on the premises.
Check out the ACA website for former Bucks for Wildlife sites in pheasant country and the Alberta Fish and Game Association website for its many thousands of Wildlife Trust acres.
Above all, whether or not you can wean yourself from the habit of potting hatchery roosters, stop whining to me about having no place to go to hunt wild pheasants.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.