Season opens for ‘other’ game bird

October is certainly a wonderful time to be in the Upper Peninsula woods, whether it be for some late-season fishing, hiking, camping, birdwatching, hunting or whatever you enjoy doing with your free time.

Avid hunters certainly like this time of year, with the small game, bear, archery deer and waterfowl seasons all in full swing.

It’s especially enjoyable this time of year to have a combination day in the woods – mix some ruffed grouse or deer hunting in with a little fishing action.

With the general trout season over, it’s partridge that get my attention this time of year, but there’s another season that got under way Thursday that deserves a mention.

This hunting season is for pheasant, which certainly takes a backseat to other forms of hunting in most regions of the U.P.

My early recollections of pheasant hunting center on when my dad returned from a hunting trip to the Dakotas, coming home with a batch of large, plump game bird breasts and a sore shoulder.

The shoulder wasn’t only sore, either, but the entire area was a deep black-and-blue – on both the front and back. This severe bruising was caused by shooting several boxes of shells through his Ithaca Model 37 16-gauge featherlight.

I think of his bruised shoulder every time I let lead fly with the Ithaca, which does have quite a kick to it.

The Dakotas have always been the hotspot for pheasant hunters to head to from our area, but there is some pretty good hunting in Michigan, as well.

In fact, the Thumb area downstate was rated a few years ago in the top 10 pheasant hunting locations in the country by Outdoor Life.

While most area hunters don’t take the time to travel downstate to hunt pheasant, there is a little corner of the U.P. that holds birds and is open to hunting.

This area includes Menominee County and small portions of Marquette, Iron, Dickinson and Delta counties. The season kicked off Thursday and runs through Oct. 31, with a two roosters per day bag limit.

These exotic game birds were introduced to Michigan from China in 1895, and thrived in the early and middle 1900s because of ideal habitat.

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, that habitat included a mix of cropland, hayland, grassland, wetland and brush in the southern part of the state that suited pheasants perfectly.

“Much of the farmland in the 1940’s and 1950’s provided outstanding pheasant habitat,” according to the DNR’s website at “At that time, farms had small fields from 10 to 20 acres in size surrounded by brushy fencerows and diverse crop rotations.

“However, by the 1960’s farmland began to change and people weren’t seeing as many pheasants. The number of farms fell from 190,000 in 1940 to less than 60,000 by 1990. The amount of land farmed also decreased from more than 18 million acres in 1940 to less than 11 million acres in 1990.

“Although predation, genetics, and overuse of pesticides are among many explanations for the decline of pheasants, Michigan’s changing agricultural scene and loss of habitat are the main reasons.”

In an effort to counter this trend, the DNR partnered with Pheasants Forever, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Michigan Department of Agriculture, local conservation districts and other conservation organizations to launch the Pheasant Restoration Initiative.

The top priority areas under the initiative are all downstate, but Menominee County is classified as a secondary pheasant restoration area.

“We are focusing on working with coalitions of private landowners to restore pheasant habitat on 15-30 percent of the landscape within pheasant recovery areas,” DNR Wildlife Division Chief Russ Mason said in a press release. “We believe by restoring our high-quality pheasant hunting tradition there will be the creation of new hunters and the return of hunters who have left the sport.”

Because the initiative aims to develop good pheasant habitat on large tracts, groups of landowners form coalitions. Participating coalitions can obtain advice and assistance on habitat improvement projects, get assistance in obtaining seed for grass plantings and possible get financial assistance for participating.

While it’s doubtful pheasant will spread across a much greater region of the U.P. than they already inhabit, it’s satisfying to know that there are efforts under way to help improve what pheasant hunting there is available to us.

Editor’s note: City Editor Dave Schneider can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 270.