On February 6, five members of the Michigan Pheasant Hunting Initiative, alongside six members of the Michigan Bird and Game Breeders Association (MBGBA,) convened in Lansing. The purpose of the meeting was to assess the previous pheasant season’s outcomes and initiate planning for the upcoming season. Additionally, three individuals participated in the meeting via Zoom teleconference, enriching the discussion with their insights.

Three hunters relive the details of their successful Rose Lake State Game Area pheasant hunt.

Adam Bump, Michigan DNR Upland Bird Manager, presided over the meeting. The Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) generously provided their facilities for the gathering. Despite other commitments, MUCC Director Amy Trotter graciously assisted by managing electronic presentations and diligently recording meeting minutes.

Both groups submitted lists to Adam Bump of concerns for the 2023 release and suggestions as to how it might be improved in 2024. He took the time to address each point.

Release Days

A common problem that everyone saw was that certain hunters “knew” just when the release dates were. The bird and game breeders found people had put tape on gates that would show when they had been opened. They also stated that cellular trail cameras were being used to alert someone of a rooster release. Although there may not be an easy way to foil these notifications, it was pressed upon the breeders that a set pattern, e.g., releasing every Tuesday and Friday, would certainly be quickly identified and taken advantage of. It would be better to release the roosters on random days of the week.

Which Days Should Birds Be Released

The MPHI members stated that releasing during the week was great for certain individuals, but the weekend warriors sometimes wondered if any birds were even released. It was decided to try to make sure that weekend hunters had a fair shake, and future releases would see almost half the available birds be released on the weekend or the nights leading up to it.

Access Issues

Bird and Game Breeder Association members spoke of issues accessing release locations. Sometimes, individuals releasing birds had to carry crates into the fields and other times, individuals were forced to release birds in the parking lots. A fairly wet fall hampered some releases, and there’s not much that can be done in those situations. The release spots that have no clear paths in which release vehicles can drive are a problem that Mr. Bump recognized and will work on.

Crowded Fields

Mr. Bump received feedback from a few hunters who were irate over the number of hunters taking part, crowding the fields. One of the senior members of the room reminded everyone that during the heyday of pheasant hunting, the fields looked the same way. It was popular! With a lack of wild pheasants and the diminishing number of hunters, some people are not accustomed to being in the same field as other hunters.

Enforcement

Both groups saw a need to encourage the DNR Conservation Officers to visit the parking lots more often and establish a rapport with pheasant hunters. Many hunters are shocked to see that some release areas require non-toxic shot. New signage was discussed for the parking lots to help hunters stay on the right side of the law.

Publicity

Everyone agreed that publicity, by press releases, was the key to this program’s success and gaining in popularity each year by new hunters. Mr. Bump did a great job in 2023 and plans to continue the push to let people know that the program exists.

Number of Releases and Release Sites

Looking toward next year, Mr. Bump reported that license sales were strong. It is anticipated that the Legislature will appropriate, in 2024, about the same amount that was appropriated in 2023. The Bird and Game Breeder Association is lobbying for just one release per week to cut down on their costs. MPHI members stated that this would be detrimental to the program, with Michigan hunters benefitting most from two releases per week in the initial season, as well as two releases per week during the December portion of the season.

MPHI lobbied for additional release sites that focus on the void in the Western part of the state as well as the area in central Southern Michigan. Mr. Bump suggested that, even if there’s a modest price increase in the cost of birds, he could see expanding the late season releases to twice per week or adding one more release site instead.

A larger release site was discussed for the Pinconning area. The current release site has approximately 50 acres and a very small parking lot. Hunters from as far away as Traverse City, Cadillac, and West Branch frequent this hunting area. Mr. Bump was investigating switching to an area in close proximity to the Pinconning site that would double the available hunting area and has a larger parking lot.

Hand-Releasing

One problem that is difficult to solve is the way that the roosters are released. Hunters have complained that certain and common areas of the release sites get all the birds. If you know where to go in that particular field, you will have a really good day. As some breeders are simply dumping their cages in one spot, it was requested that the breeders be required to either hand throw the birds or to use cages that require the birds to fly out. Rose Lake was used as a good example, in which the area manager instructs the bird and game breeders to release a certain number of birds in one spot, drive to the next, release a few more, etc. There is no “honey hole” in this area. Hunters have to hunt. As drivable conditions may prevent that in some areas, hand-releasing the birds will cause them to fly to random spots in the fields. Mr. Bump noted that the following statement is in the release instructions that all breeders are expected to follow: “Birds should be dispersed throughout available cover at release locations.”

Best Places To Access the Fields

The last problem that needs to be solved is the publicity of the actual release sites. As of yet, the DNR has been tight-lipped about just where hunters should start. Although nobody thought the release sites should be specifically pointed out, the parking lots in which the hunters should park would be valuable information. Numerous state game areas have many parking lots, but not all parking lots will get hunters close to the pheasants.

Both bird and game breeders and MPHI members have fielded questions such as “Where is the parking lot for Dansville? There are so many, I don’t know which one is associated with the release program.” Adam Bump is interested in publishing the parking lots and will consider pointing out the exact fields. MPHI members stated that it was their goal to list the locations of all parking areas on their website, www.mphi.info, regardless. Most everyone agreed that hunting activities should be geared toward birds and not the release sites.

Last season, Mr. Bump took on the added workload and calculated the acreage of all available huntable cover in the release sites. He then divvied up the roosters so that the acreage/rooster ratio was close, no matter which field a hunter visited. This action was a huge improvement to the program and gave hunters across all sites the same opportunity to flush a rooster.

All in all, it was a good meeting with a lot of information and views tossed back and forth. Everyone in the meeting wanted the 2024 season to be even better than the 2023 season, and it looks like we’re off to a good start!