Since the Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) took over the pheasant release program from the government about eight years ago, the ACA has seen a drastic increase of interest in pheasant hunting.
With their new policies, roughly 26,000 to 27,000 roosters are released each pheasant hunting season.
“It took off like a wildfire,” said Mike Uchikura, a ciologist with the ACA. “When we took over the program, we increased the number of pheasant release sites in the province. We increased the total number of birds that we release at release sites.”
After the successful transition of management, the ACA has seen double the amount of interest in the sport with roughly about 10,000 pheasant hunting licenses sold each year.
“When we took over the program, I think at that time, there were only about 5,000 pheasant hunting licenses being sold in the province,” said Uchikura. “And the number was going down considerably every year.”
With a deep history on the land, pheasant hunting is a long-standing tradition in Alberta’s culture that’s now on the rise again in popularity.
Tyson Ketler is a 16-year-old avid pheasant hunter who’s been participating in the sport with his family since he was six years old.
“My favourite part is just the experience of being there and being able to see the birds. They’re pretty colorful, which a lot of people wouldn’t think some random bird in the prairie would be that amazing,” said Ketler. “But I just find them fascinating.”
Tyson enjoys the sport as it promotes quality time with his mom and dad. For the Ketlers, this tradition has gone on for years.
In 1908, the first Ring Neck pheasants were brought over from China and released into Alberta. In the early days, the populations flourished due to the uninhabited vegetative landscape.
“If you look at the landscape now and think back to what it would have been 100 years ago, the land wasn’t developed as much. So, from a habitat perspective, there’s a lot more nesting covered,” said Uchikura.
Uchikura has worked with the ACA for 14 years with the primary objective to develop wildlife habitat.
During the mid 1900’s, southern Alberta became a primary pheasant hunting destination.
“People from all over North America would come to southern Alberta just to hunt pheasants,” said Uchikura. “It was a huge event each year. Hotels and restaurants benefited immensely from the pheasant hunting that would happen in Alberta.”
Surviving mostly off insects and leftover grain seeds, these resilient colourful birds have become a staple to the Alberta prairie landscape.
Despite the successful integration, over the years, the natural pheasant population began to dwindle due to loss of habitat when agriculture practices developed all over the province.
In order to aid in helping the natural population survive, the ACA releases roosters in the province every year to help promote breeding.
Though most of the released roosters do get hunted, they take the pressure off from the natural population and allow the smarter, better adapted birds to continue to survive and breed.
The Alberta Conservation Association is a non-profit agency in the province with the mission to conserve and preserve nature in Alberta for generations to come.
The ACA took over the pheasant release program with the intent to promote popularity and help the pheasant population in the province.
They do this by partnering with farmers in the agricultural industry to build habitat for these birds. Uchikura, and others at the ACA, work closely with these farmers to make changes and adjustments on the land.
These changes enhance and preserve the land inhabited by not only by pheasants, but other native animals as well.
Preserving brush, marches, cattails, creeks, trees, tall grass and other natural landscape provides a home for many species.
The ACA understands that not every farm, or landscape, is the same. They take their time with an individual approach with each partnership to see what can be done on the land.
With the help of the ACA, farmers don’t have to bear the entire financial burden of bringing back the land’s natural properties.
Today, individual pheasant farmers have the opportunity to raise, house and import their own pheasants for private release and hunting under special licenses.
Bob Williams is an Albertan pheasant farmer with over 35 years in the field.
Williams has extensive knowledge in dog training, which is an essential part of the pheasant hunt. Hunters spend time training their dogs at ages as young as 10 or 12 weeks old and continue this training well into their adult years.
“It’s just a plaything at first to get them interested. So they’re not feather shy or, you know, gun shy,” said Williams.
Today, the pheasant hunting season typically runs from September 1 to the end of November. Farmers, such as Williams who have a shooting grounds permit are allowed to hunt their own birds on private land anytime during the year.
At Williams’ pheasant farm, he does not hatch the birds but gets them delivered when they are aged between 20 to 24 weeks old.
Only roosters, male pheasants, are delivered to Williams’ farm.
Williams, like many pheasant enthusiasts, wants to preserve the sport and the population of birds within it. So as a result, Williams does not support the hunting of hens, female pheasants.
“Every hen you shoot is 10 or 12 potential chicks.” said Williams.
Though the population of native pheasants in Alberta changes every year, with the ACA’s program, the birds’ population remains stable.
With the conservation efforts being made to support one of Alberta’s most popular traditions, the pheasant hunting culture will be able to continue for Alberta families to enjoy for generations to come.
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