The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

November 9, 2012

OUTDOORS: Pheasant population has dwindled drastically

BY SAM VAN CAMP
Commercial-News

DANVILLE —  

The opening of the Upland Game Season last Saturday brought many questions from readers about pheasants. The pheasant, once plentiful in this area, are very difficult to find and that is a real shame.

Looking back on when pheasants were plentiful, it was nothing, on most days, to be back in my truck with my limit of three birds (the limit is two today), in an hour or so hunting over a good dog.

There are different reasons for the decline in the pheasant population but the blizzards of the early 1980s along with modern agricultural practices are the main reason for the decline in these birds.

The two blizzards of the early 80s sent blowing fine snow into the fencerows suffocating many of the birds as they sheltered there. I found many, mostly hens, frozen like ice cubes after these storms.

When I was young, area farmers always left about five rows of corn at the end of their field to feed these birds, today none is left and, the modern machinery gets the majority of the corn out of the field. Back then, corn was cheap, today that isn’t so.

Add to these problems the loss of prime pheasant habitat, the re-introduction of coyotes into the state and early mowing during the nesting period of what little prime grass areas we have and you can quickly see why there are so few birds.

I had a young man tell me about two months ago that he had never seen a pheasant before but saw one as he was out driving that day. He told me he stopped to take a picture of it but by the time he got there, it was gone. I told him about times I saw well over a hundred birds at the end of a field we were about to hunt. It is hard for me to believe that they are so scarce today after all that I got to see years ago.

When Thanksgiving rolls around I always think about those days when I would unload the dog, and how that cup of hot coffee smelled on a cold late fall morning when frost covered the grassy field I was about to hunt. The other things I really miss are the companionship of my dog and the smell of spent gunpowder as it exited my gun. I am carving a full-size pheasant right now to help remember the “Good Ol’ Days.”

Deer hunting conditions remained excellent during the past week, with cool weather and light winds throughout the period. Small amounts of rain fell during the early morning hours on Saturday in parts of the state, but harvest remained strong. Harvest was up significantly this week, and the proportion of males in the harvest continued to climb.

Through Sunday, November 4, 2012, Illinois archery deer hunters harvested a preliminary total of 30,956 deer. Last year’s preliminary harvest for the same period was 28,198, and the five-year average for 2007-2011 was 29,381.

Harvest to date (for all weeks) consists of 56 percent does and 44 percent males (17,475 to 13,481). Males comprised about 59 percent of the past week’s harvest. Top five counties to date are Pike (1,309), Fulton (998), Jefferson (685), Peoria (671), and Adams (656).

Vermilion County hunters have harvested 510 deer during this year’s archery season compared to 569 at this time last season.

It is interesting to me to see how the percentage of males harvested increases each week as the rut continues to deepen.

Sam Van Camp writes about the outdoors on Fridays and Sundays. Call him at 662-6559. Fax: 446-6648. E-mail: pamnsam@nwcable.net