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Clarifying the New Michigan Phesant License

Tom Lounsbury

Mon, 12 Jul 2021 15:56:55 EDT


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The Michigan Pheasant Hunting Initiative (MPHI) is a grassroots effort created by devoted small game hunter, Ken Dalton of Lapeer, who has been dismayed by the steadily dropping numbers of small game hunters in Michigan, and he decided to do something about it. According to Dalton, something had to be created to instill the true joy of small game hunting, and he readily remembers when small game hunters way outnumbered deer hunters. This was due in large part to the ring-neck pheasant, which would have scores of hunters and bird-dogs out in the fields seeking out this very unique (and quite delicious) gamebird. During Michigan's pheasant hunting heyday, the multitudes of visiting hunters were truly a great boon to local economies.
Although the ring-neck pheasant is a non-native bird species, it certainly has become "naturalized" in this country, and it even became the State Bird of South Dakota (in 1943), where pheasants were first released in 1898. The first major pheasant releases in Michigan occurred in 1917, with the first pheasant season opening on October 15th, 1925 in southern Michigan, In 1952, the opening date would be changed to October 20th, where it has remained ever since.
Pheasant hunting, from the start, would quickly become a major outdoor pastime for hunters in the state for the next forty years (with schools even being closed on the opening day). It was during the mid-1960s when the wild pheasant numbers began to plummet, primarily due to the steady changing of required habitat caused by new farming techniques (which included newly developed herbicides and insecticides), combined with a series of severe winter conditions. Almost overnight, it seemed, the wild ring-neck pheasant all but disappeared. They did, however, manage to survive wherever the habitat allowed, albeit in small pockets of cover. The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) that first started out in the 1980s which placed farmlands into grasslands was, and still is, a great asset for wild pheasants.
About the same time as CRP began, the Pheasants Forever (PF) organization came into effect to greatly assist matters nationwide, with a main focus on proper habitat, and PF certainly does a great and dedicated job. To also assist the pheasant, the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative (MPRI) was created by the MDNR in 2011 to have private landowners form cooperatives to create large blocks of cover, and this remains to be an ongoing and positive effort.
Although Michigan's wild pheasant has been able to hang on wherever proper habitat allows it to survive and propagate, it is primarily a private farmland game bird species, and gaining permission to hunt private property, especially for large groups of hunters, is not as easy as it once was. For this reason, Ken Dalton created the Michigan Pheasant Hunting Initiative (MPHI), which would provide pheasant hunting opportunities on public land for all hunters, to once again instill the love of small game hunting and to recruit and retain new hunters.
This effort is not to be confused with Michigan's "Put and Take" pheasant program of the 1970s, where hunters were often waiting for the truck to arrive and release pen-reared pheasants. Dalton has arranged with the Michigan Gamebird Breeders Association to provide quality (roosters only) pheasants, and to secretly release them afterhours in set locations during an ongoing pheasant season.
Thanks to funding provided by state lawmakers, Dalton's dedicated efforts came to fruition during the 2019 pheasant seasons, with roosters being released in 11 State Game Areas in southern Michigan. All that was required to participate was a free "pheasant stamp", and by all accounts, it was a great success entailing a lot of folks enjoying the hunt, many of whom had never hunted pheasants before. However, the pandemic put a halt to matters in 2020, and no birds were released during that hunting season.
When the 2021 Michigan hunting licenses became available this past spring, there was a bit of confusion, not only with purchasers, but also by those doing the license selling, about a new $25 "Pheasant License". It is clear, the word hadn't gotten out about all that is entailed. To begin, the pheasant license is NOT required to hunt pheasants on private land or on hunting preserves, but it is required to hunt pheasants on any state-owned property and Hunter Access Program (HAP) grounds in the Lower Peninsula (it is not required in the Upper Peninsula). Also very important to know, is that youth hunters under the age of 18 are not required to purchase a pheasant license. The $25 license is necessary to pay for the birds being released in the hopes that the MPHI program will become self-supporting.
As Ken Dalton points out, 21 states (including South Dakota) release pheasants each fall for hunters, and most require participating hunters to purchase an earmarked pheasant license (or stamp) to assist in paying for the program. It is also Dalton's hope to even attract out of state pheasant hunters to Michigan, with an overall goal of having pheasant hunting once again rejuvenating local economies.
A prime example is South Dakota, which places a priority on pheasant hunting as being very economically important, and attracts a lot of pheasant hunters from all over the country, including from Michigan, to have a very unique outdoor experience. There is nothing quite like the sight of a raucous and gaudy rooster pheasant suddenly flushing up into an autumn sky, as well as sharing the warm camaraderie of fellow hunters and their bird dogs. It is definitely a world unto itself (being a farm kid in the Thumb, it is the world I grew up in, and I cherished every moment).
At present, not as many State Game Areas (SGA) will be involved in the MPHI program, as were available in 2019, and thus far, none are in the Thumb. The MDNR Wildlife Division is reviewing matters, including pheasant license sales and only time will tell if or when more public ground will become available. According to Dalton, Hunter Access Program (HAP) acres on private farmland are also being considered, which I believe is a fantastic option. He is hoping more public land becomes involved in the MPHI program to allow easier access for a lot of pheasant hunters.
Dalton also hopes to bring back a "rooster-tail" contest which were once quite a very popular commodity during a pheasant season. This often entailed the total number of black bars in the longest tail feather. For a fact, I know when there are 30 or more bars, you have quite a long tail feather from a dandy rooster!
In regards to the wild pheasants in the Thumb (which was Michigan's pheasant hunting hotspot during the heyday), birds have been experiencing ideal weather conditions this year wherever the habitat allows. There was a good carryover of birds during the winter, with plenty of "rooster-crowing" in May during the typical pheasant breeding period. The ongoing drought, while rough on farmers, offered fantastic conditions for nesting and chick-rearing hens. I've recently seen a number of successful broods, with the chicks being able to already fly. Typically, about 90% of the wild roosters harvested during a given pheasant season (and only roosters can be legally harvested) were actually hatched during the summer. The average life expectancy of a wild pheasant is one year, and harvesting surplus roosters actually has no impact on the overall bird population from one year to the next. An important key is to have a good winter carryover of hens in proper habitat, have great nesting/hatching weather with a high chick survivability, and there are always enough roosters around to take care of matters during the breeding season.
Needless to say, folks, I have already purchased a Michigan Pheasant License. Although I have access to private land pheasant hunting opportunities, I also frequently hunt public land, and thanks to preseason scouting, I do have some favorite spots. I also fully support the MPHI program, and wish to do my part in order to allow others to be able to enjoy the wonderful outdoor pastime of pheasant hunting in Michigan.
Ken Dalton goes by "Mr. Pheasident" of MPHI. For more information, call him at (810)-358-9372 , or go to This Website.


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