Upland hunters looking forward to going afield for the late pheasant hunting season may be disappointed thanks to the recent detection of the highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) .
The Pennsylvania Game Commission has discovered HPAI in a private Northumberland County game farm and has been forced to adjust its late season pheasant stocking program. The intent is to help safeguard the agency’s pheasant program to insure that it will continue next year for the 2024-25 small game hunting seasons.
According to the PGC, in the next two weeks the agency will release fewer pheasants statewide than initially planned. And here in the eastern part of the state, pheasant releases will occur only this week, not next, with properties that receive normally birds during their final two releases, will be combined as one. These adjustments, say the PGC, will impact pheasant hunters and this is why.
Last week, the state Department of Agriculture announced the recent detection of HPAI at Martz’s Game Farm in Northumberland County, a popular pay-to-hunt farm. While the pheasants released by the PGC originate from a different facility, Mahantongo Game Farm, where HPAI has not been detected nor suspected, that facility also is in Northumberland County.
The proximity of HPAI to that facility represents a concern, the PGC explains. If there was an HPAI outbreak there, regulations would require euthanasia of many or all of the breeding pheasants that provide stock for the PGC’s stocking program, and could jeopardize the program’s future.
As such, the PGC is taking measures by first holding onto all of the hen pheasants, and about five percent of roosters that were slated for release in the final two pheasant releases for the 2023-24 seasons.
Then, if HPAI remains undetected through continued testing of birds at the Mahantongo Farm, pheasants there will be temporarily transferred to the PGC’s Loyalsock Game Farm. That’s why the counties served by Loyalsock will get their final two releases all at once this week. The pheasants to be released need to be cleared out to make room for those coming in.
The Loyalsock facility serves the following counties to the stocked this week: Adams, Berks, Bradford, Carbon, Centre, Columbia, Cumberland, Franklin (State Game Lands 235 only), Lackawanna, Lehigh, Luzerne, Lycoming. Monroe, Montgomery, Northumberland, Perry, Pike Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Union, Wayne, Wyoming and York.
Pennsylvania’s remaining counties served by the Southwest Game Farm, will have rooster-only pheasant releases in those counties and will continue as scheduled in each of the next two weeks.
According to Ian Gregg, Wildlife Operations Division Chief, “This wasn’t a decision we took lightly because we know that pheasant hunters have been looking forward to the late small game season pheasant releases. They will be inconvenienced by these adjustments on short notice. However, we believe this precautionary approach is the right thing to do because it will significantly reduce the risk of disease impacts that would be more devastating to pheasant hunting in the long run.”
On a local note, pheasant hunters with hunting dogs traditionally look forward to this late season to have their dogs work the fields to sniff out and flush pheasants.
The number of pheasants to be stocked locally in the Southeast that will receive a total of 6,900 males, and 1,340 females. Up in the Northeast, they’ll receive 8,060 males and 1,020 females.
Nick Hromiak has been an outdoors and automotive writer for over 30 years. He's been published in numerous national and state-wide outdoor magazines and newspapers.