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Henderson: Pheasants farming not true to hunting
Docile birds offer no 'sport'

Never thought that I'd admit this, but Wayne Pacelle -- the world's most famous and powerful anti-hunter -- made some good, irrefutable points in a recent article on pheasant hunting.

The pheasant hunt has, in many cases, devolved into a pathetic blend of factory farming and canned hunting: The birds are planted, the killing is all but guaranteed, and the 'sport' is non-existent," Pacelle said in an article for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), of which he is the executive director.

"Last year, state wildlife agencies purchased more than 765,000 pen-raised birds, whether chicks or mature pheasants, for release on public lands for what is known as "put and take' hunting.

"A week after their release, according to Bird Dog & Retriever News, some 40 percent will have starved to death or been killed by predators. After a month, the mortality will reach 75 percent. By the end of the hunting season, only a small percentage will have fallen to a well-aimed wad of lead shot. By some estimates, only a scant 5 percent will make it through the winter."

Pacelle goes on to describe the pathetic situation in which pheasants are reared, where birds are fitted with blinders and their beaks clipped to limit damage to each other in the close environment. Then they are released on public lands for hunters to pursue."

"Raised in intense confinement and habituated to humans who have fed them since hatching, the newly released pheasants can take up to three weeks to learn to forage -- by which time they may have starved or become food for scavengers or predators such as foxes, raccoons, and raptors. Unlike wary wild birds that have an opportunity to develop appropriate predator-avoidance behaviors, these farmed pheasants possess few survival skills, including the knowledge to find shelter when temperatures plunge. They are products of the pen, not natural selection.

"Instead of a challenging and rewarding hunt, pen-raised pheasants provide little more than live target practice. And stocking them is expensive. Two years ago, Pennsylvania solicited bids from private game farms which wanted $8 to $15 a bird, plus shipping. The state decided to continue with its own breeding program, and last year spent $2 million to raise and distribute 193,000 pheasants. That's more than $10 a bird."

Luckily, Pacelle didn't get the figures from New York, where we pay appreciably more to put pen-raised birds out for slaughter. It's not actually taxpayers' money as he asserts, but rather money from the sale of sporting licenses. Sportsmen foot the bill.

"Wouldn't that money be better invested in improving habitat? After all, improving and expanding habitat would help eliminate one of the major threats to imperiled wildlife."

Certainly can't refute that one. In fact, I've caught a good deal of flak over the years for raising the same point. I understand that stocked birds are the only outlet for a lot of people who like to train and hunt with dogs, but stocking only satisfies the immediate need.

What about the future?

They're saying that as the age of the average hunter approaches 50, we think only about ourselves and today. Maybe they're right.

In a thinking world, we'd put the money into habitat and when it's ready, stock some birds and nurture them for a few years to build a wild population. Then we'd actually have hunting. But it wouldn't be this year.

"From a true sportsman's perspective," Pacelle said, "the entire process, from the stocking to the 'hunt,' makes a mockery of ethical field conduct and respect for animals."

Can't argue with that one, either.

Henderson's outdoors columns appear in the Press & Sun-Bulletin weekdays and his Field Notes columns on Sunday. Write to him at Henderson Outdoors, 202 Prospect St., Endicott N.Y. 13760 or fax information to 785-8337 or via e-mail through his website at


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