Up the Creek: History of Portage County pheasants
Up the Creek
Ken M. Blomberg
Pheasants and Portage County have a history, but these days, wild pheasants are far and few in-between. Back in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, pheasant hunting was a popular pastime in central Wisconsin. As far as that goes, so was hunting prairie chickens, sharptailed grouse and bobwhite quail. But habitat changes occurred as farming practices, land fragmentation and central forest land matured.
I know several upland bird hunters who seriously pursue ring-necked pheasants with their bird dogs in Wisconsin each fall. While our state is not known as a destination for this sporting game bird, it does have a sustainable, albeit modest, population of wild birds. The key, of course, is suitable habitat. According to Mark Witecha, upland wildlife ecologist with the DNR, “Pheasants are one of the most sought-after game birds in North America, and populations do best in the agricultural landscape of southern and western Wisconsin provided there is habitat present in sufficient quantities to meet their food and cover needs throughout the year.” The season for rooster pheasants begins mid-October and ends during the first week of January.
The state also maintains a game farm facility connected to the MacKenzie Center near Poynette in central Columbia County. The original hatchery built in the early 1930s is still in use today. Of the chicks hatched, some are reared on site, while others are distributed to conservation clubs participating in a day-old chick program. The state stocking program began in 1928 under the then Department of Conservation. The state continues to stock captive-raised ring-necked pheasants on public hunting grounds to boost the wild pheasant population and provide quality pheasant-hunting opportunities. In 2017, plans were to stock ninety-one properties with approximately seventy-six thousand pheasants from the state game farm through the end of December.
The fact that wild pheasant populations do exist in many locations of the state is substantiated by the annual statewide rooster harvest. In the 2016 pheasant hunting season alone, an estimated 43,520 hunters went out in search of pheasants and reported harvesting 307,240 birds.
A major contributing factor to those numbers is the involvement of Pheasants Forever (PF). Dedicated to “the conservation of pheasants, quail and other wildlife through habitat improvements, public awareness, education, and land management policies and programs,” PF is a very active partner in the state’s pheasant management programs. Headquartered in neighboring Minnesota, this national organization stresses habitat over stocking, putting most funds raised by its membership into habitat management and land purchases. PF proudly notes it has 149,000 members; a diverse staff, including more than 100 wildlife biologists; and more than 700 chapters nationwide. Wildlife habitat conservation is its mission.
The Tomorrow River Chapter of PF is located in central Wisconsin and consists of the counties of Portage and Waupaca. The chapter focuses on habitat management and youth involvement in the outdoors. Their mission is to promote and implement wildlife habitat improvements in Waupaca and Portage counties, educate the public on the benefits of conservation and wildlife habitat and recruit new people (emphasis on youth and women) and help them understand and discover the outdoors.
Their annual fundraising banquet will be held next Thursday, September 20 at 5 pm in Plover at Shooters, 5330 Harding Ave. For more information contact Tyrone Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Attending the banquet is a great way to support PF, the leading habitat organization across the nation.
Blomberg is the author of two books, UP THE CREEK, and WISCONSIN BIRD HUNTING TALES. Both are available at either amazon.com,barnesandnoble.com or arcadiapublishing.com. Autographed copies are available from the author at email@example.com.