Kids could get an early jump on pheasant flushing next hunting season.
Youths ages 12-15 who qualify in New York State have a preseason hunt each year for waterfowl and wild turkey.
Now, Department of Environmental Conservation officials have proposed holding a special youth-only pheasant hunting weekend before the start of the pheasant season statewide, beginning next fall.
In Western New York, that weekend would fall in early to mid October, depending on when the first Saturday after Oct. 1 occurs.
Junior hunters would have to pass a hunter certification course and be accompanied by a licensed adult hunter during the youth hunt.
Mike Murphy, manager at the DEC Richard E. Reynolds Game Farm in Ithaca, fielded several questions relating to the youth hunt by phone and by e-mail.
In general, hunters wanted to know the extent of the resource (bird numbers), funding and specifics about how the hunts would be conducted.
Murphy replied with a comment about the pheasant rearing facility at Ithaca. "Our annual goal [at Reynolds] is to produce 25,000 adult pheasants for all stocking," he said, with production usually exceeding that number by 1,000 to 3,000 birds.
Additionally, private sources such as participants in the Day-Old Pheasant Chick Program may allocate a part of their birds for the Youth Weekend.
Murphy added that stocking the youth hunt will require no additional funding from the Conservation Fund.
As for locations, regional staffers will determine where birds are released prior to the youth hunt, but Murphy pegs sites at one or two in each of the nine regions across the state.
The state's production of birds will remain the same. And, the cost of an additional stocking would be offset by volunteer assistance in distributing the birds and the reduced cost for not feeding those mature birds released a week or more before their normal release date.
Birds not killed during the youth hunt will be available to hunters on and after the opening day of pheasant season in all areas of the state.
Dick McMurray, president of the Western New York Chapter of Pheasants Forever, said, "We definitely support the Youth Pheasant Hunt Weekend proposal."
PF, Safari Club chapters, county federations and other hunting-related organizations would be asked to participate in this program, Murphy noted.
"As a chapter we haven't discussed Pheasants Forever's involvement in this youth hunt, but this is the kind of thing we need to interest kids in hunting," McMurray said.
Involvement of youths in preseason pheasant hunts has already been established in other states. Hunts similar to the one proposed in New York State already exist in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
In years past, area hunters have taken their children to Ohio and other nearby states to have them partake in youth hunts for upland birds.
Kids get the chance to be in the field with less crowding and pressure during these early hunts. Many groups now hold youth hunts during the regular pheasant season. While youths can enjoy this early hunt and volunteers have an opportunity to instruct kids in gun handling, dog handling and shooting techniques, an early hunt offers additional advantages.
Preseason, adult hunters and dog handlers would have more time to devote to assisting young hunters. Weather in mid-October, excluding this past fall, is generally warmer and more pleasant for being outdoors.
With all the additional assistance and increased freedom to move around stocked fields, the hunting and learning experiences would be better for the kids and all who help in the hunt.
The period for commenting on this proposal ends Monday, the last day of a 45-day "official public comment" period. Brian Swift, the coordinator accepting proposal comments, will accept input in writing only, but an e-mail will do.
To offer views and suggestions on this proposal, send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments must be forwarded before the end of the business day Monday.
After pheasant season ends in Western New York on Dec. 31, seasoned hunters can take youths and rookie hunters to one or more of four active hunting preserves that offer hunts for pheasants and chukar.
Here are addresses, proprietors and contact numbers:
*Forrestel Farm Hunting Preserve, 4660 Water Works Road, Medina, Bill Keppler, (585) 798-9110.
*Cambria Game Farm, 4460 Upper Mountain Road, Lockport, Ric Siegmann, 434-5003.
*Ringneck Hunting Preserve, 2407 Broadway (Route 20), Darien Center, Gene and Peggy Bontrager, (585) 547-3749.
*Pheasant Ridge Hunting, 6781 Ridge Road, Lockport, Jim Lederhouse, 438-0182 or 628-4189.