Pheasant hunting might be considered a Midwestern game, but in 1882 the Willamette Valley of Oregon was the site of the first successful introduction of ring-necked pheasants in the United States. Those birds were transported by sea directly from China by Judge Owen Denny and the population soon burgeoned into the tens of thousands.
Over the past several decades, however, Western pheasant numbers have declined as agriculture has become more highly efficient. But there’s still fairly good pheasant hunting in some areas—notably eastern Oregon agricultural areas such as the Columbia Basin and farmlands along the lower Malheur River and Owyhee drainages; California’s Sacramento, San Joaquin and Central valleys; and Washington state’s Columbia Basin and the state’s southeastern region. Each state has also tried to enhance pheasant hunting opportunities in various ways. Here’s a quick look at the current state of West Coast pheasant hunting.
In Washington state there’s been a wide variation in pheasant harvest and hunter participation during the past 50 years. The annual pheasant harvest was at its highest during the mid-1960s with another peak in the late ’70s, when more than 500,000 pheasants were taken statewide. Since that time, the pheasant harvest has been declining steadily, and it’s apparent pheasant populations in Washington state currently are much lower than they were during the 1960s and ’70s, primarily due to loss of habitat. Statewide in 2003—the last year for which pheasant harvest statistics are available—an estimated 26,039 hunters shot 95,802 pheasants.
Today, the state conducts the Western Washington Pheasant Release Program, to provide additional hunting opportunities. Each year, 30,000-40,000 pheasants are released on approximately 25 sites, with maps and information about the program available from the state game department. The bag limit is two pheasants of either sex per day on release sites, and there’s no limit to the number of permits purchased per year. A 3-day permit that allows the harvest of four pheasants is also available. Most release sites have established parking areas or access points, and the number of pheasants released on each site is based on several factors, including the estimated number of hunters using the sites.
In eastern Washington state, the Pheasant Enhancement Program was developed in 1997 by the state Legislature. The idea was to develop a dedicated funding source to improve pheasant hunting east of the Cascades.
Most of the funds are used to buy rooster pheasants for release on lands open to public access. Because the overall pheasant harvest in the area has declined since the 1980s, with habitat loss identified as the key problem, in 1991 the state game department initiated a very aggressive habitat enhancement program to address this continual loss. Until these habitat enhancement efforts can be established on a broad scale, pheasant releases will help supplement harvest and maintain hunter opportunity.
For more information, contact the Washington Department of Game by calling (360) 902-2200.
Because pheasants are tied so closely to agriculture, the majority of pheasant hunting opportunities in Oregon occur on private land. State wildlife areas, however, offer opportunities for hunting on public land, and some federal refuges also provide pheasant hunting. Several cooperative programs between the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) and private landowners also provide hunting access to private land. More details on these areas can be found in the state’s game bird regulations, as can information on a series of September youth hunts and several western Oregon areas where pheasants are released for hunting.
The DFW also manages several wildlife areas, most of which offer upland game bird hunting opportunities. Special wildlife area regulations and opportunities begin on page 26 of the state’s “2005-2006 Game Bird Regulations.” Other state agencies that provide hunting access on some of their lands include the Department of State Lands and Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, which manage about 40 land parcels along the Willamette River. More information is available in the Willamette River Recreation Guide. Also, though it’s now several years old, the DFW’s publication, “Game Bird Hunting in Oregon: A Guide to Public Hunting Opportunities,” is still a useful tool for locating places to hunt. This book contains species descriptions and pictures, maps of all major wildlife areas, tips from wildlife biologists, harvest statistics and more. There’s a small fee for this publication, with all proceeds benefiting game bird management programs.
The DFW also works with private landowners to encourage public access. Some of these private lands are enrolled in Regulated Hunt Areas, Access and Habitat and the Upland Cooperative Access programs. Many of these private land access opportunities as well as public hunting opportunities can be found in the Columbia Basin.
From 1994-2003, an annual average of 18,699 hunters pursued pheasants, with an average annual harvest of 57,138 roosters. For more information, contact the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife at (503) 947-6000.
The Golden State has many pheasant hunting opportunities, though as is the case up and down the coast, habitat loss has encroached on what’s available. In 2004, for example, the top 10 counties in the state in terms of pheasant harvest, and their percentage of the overall statewide take, were Colusa (16.2 percent), Yolo (10.6 percent), Butte (9 percent), Glenn (7.3 percent), Imperial (5.7 percent), Sutter (5.5 percent), Solano (5.4 percent), Sacramento (4.6 percent), San Joaquin (4.4 percent) and Lassen (3.9 percent). During 2002-04, an annual average of 41,436 hunters in the field for an average of 4.4 days harvested 139,751 pheasants.
Though most hunting occurs on private land, California is also home to many state wildlife areas and national wildlife refuges that offer lots of public pheasant hunting opportunities. However, as a general rule these areas receive lots of hunting pressure and success rates are low, with the best hunting usually occurring during opening weekend.
California is also home to several private, licensed pheasant clubs, where birds are raised and released for hunting on a fee basis. These businesses provide excellent hunting opportunities, high success rates and are great places to introduce both young hunters and beginning bird dogs to pheasants.
For more information, contact the California Department of Fish and Game at (916) 445-0411.