While changing habitat, urban growth and modern farming practices have had a severe impact on the pheasant hunt in Utah, several thousand hunters still enjoy what was once the most popular upland game hunt.
Utah’s season opens Saturday, and the Division of Wildlife Resources will try to improve the chances of hunting success by releasing 10,000 pen-raised ringneck on public hunting land.
The hunt runs through Dec. 3 on private and public land. That is longer than in the past, when the hunt on private land ran for only 14 days.
In the best days of Utah pheasant hunting, as many as 100,000 hunters were out for the opener. That number has dropped to about 20,000.
“Biologists were concerned about the pressure the state’s hunters might put on the pheasant population,” said Jason Robinson, the DWR’s upland game coordinator. “Since then, the amount of farmland has decreased, but so has the number of pheasant hunters. Today, about 20,000 people hunt pheasants. Because there are far fewer pheasant hunters than there once were, we’re comfortable allowing a longer season on private land.”
Robinson says removing male pheasants does not affect the overall population of pheasants that are available the next year.
“Plenty of roosters make it through the hunting season,” he said in a news release. “So enough roosters are available to breed all of the hens the following spring. In addition to not having a negative effect on the pheasant population, making the season dates the same — on both private and public land — makes the state’s pheasant hunting regulations much easier to understand and follow.”
Robinson is cautiously optimistic about good hunting. While deep snow and low temperatures may have killed some birds in northern and northeastern Utah, the number of chicks born this spring helped make up for those losses.
“Chick production was likely above average this spring,” Robinson said. “Heavy snowfall followed by a wet spring provided the chicks with lots of vegetation. They had plenty of cover to hide in and plenty of insects to eat.”
The pen-raised pheasants, bought by the DWR and Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife from two private bird growers, will be released in areas throughout Utah before each weekend of the monthlong hunt.
On at least 11 of the areas where birds will be released, including 10 waterfowl management areas and the Utah Lake Wetland Preserve, nontoxic shot such as steel is required.
See an interactive map at wildlife.utah.gov/uplandgame to find the areas where the birds will be released.