By Jack Ammerman
Michigan won’t see the number of pheasant hunters afield like it had in the 1960s, but interest is growing for a very good reason.
Ken Dalton, president of the Michigan Pheasant Hunting Initiative states, “We have scattered wild pheasant populations in Michigan, but if you’re in the right areas there are good opportunities – mainly in the thumb region, and mostly on private land.”
He elaborated, “But don’t let that stop you from getting out pheasant hunting! Thanks to the pheasant hunters that purchased licenses last season, there will be up to 2,000 roosters released on public lands throughout the season for all to hunt.”
Last year the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) designated nine State Game Areas in which they released rooster pheasants throughout the season for public hunting. The roosters are released at night (once or twice a week) and the fields are open to hunters that have purchased a pheasant license this season.
The program is not meant to be a stocking program, in which birds are expected to reproduce. Though some may survive the season and the winter, these birds are meant to be hunted. It is an economic driver that gets people out of the house and back into the fields enjoying the state resource, all the while benefitting local restaurants, sporting goods stores, gas stations, and many more businesses that the hunters frequent.
“If the money is spent right, the program is self-sustaining. Hunters are paying for their own recreation because, by law, one hundred percent of the money generated by pheasant license sales goes right back into buying roosters for the next season,” Dalton said.
One hunter interviewed in the middle of the last pheasant season spoke about his experiences, “There has never been this many hunters in this state game area. This is a testament that the birds are here and that people want to experience pheasant hunting like it was in the late 60s. I flushed three roosters today, and was able to shoot one.” When asked about the stigma of shooting “pen raised birds” the hunter replied, “They were strong flyers. The flushes didn’t seem to be any different to me than it was years ago hunting wild pheasants – it’s still an adrenalin rush. I guess that anyone arguing that this is somehow inferior should explain why I missed two out of three. I’m a pretty good shot!”
Including Michigan, there are twenty states that have pheasant release programs on public lands. Neighboring states include Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
Michigan’s pheasant season begins October 20 and runs through November 14 in the Lower Peninsula. There is also a late season in the Southern part of the Lower Peninsula that runs December 1 to January 1.
The DNR released roosters in the 2021 late season, but because of a late start with the budget and less money allocated, roosters will not be released for a late season. The Michigan DNR will utilize the same State Game Area locations as it did last year. Updated details can be found at the DNR website when plans have been finalized.
A $25 Pheasant license is required when hunting pheasants in the Lower Penninsula. It can be purchased at Michigan.gov/DNRLicenses or over the counter at license retailers. Hunters must have a 2022 base license to purchase the 2022 pheasant license. Hunters hunting on private property only and those hunters that are less than eighteen years old are exempt.