POTLATCH, Idaho (AP) — Wyatt Howard lifted his arms skyward to let a rooster pheasant take wing and glide into dense cover along the Palouse River near here.
The 15-year-old from Hayden, Idaho, had just finished a successful hunt at the Palouse River Upland Game Bird Access Yes! Area and in a sense was seeding the habitat for kids who will soon follow in his boot steps. The area is reserved for young hunters and stocked with adult birds regularly by the Game Bird Foundation. Idaho's week-long youth pheasant season began Saturday.
"There was tons of birds and it was good training for the dogs and a good time with my dad," Howard told The Lewiston Tribune . "It's a great foundation and a great idea."
The foundation manages the area in partnership with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. On Saturday, foundation members, area youth and wildlife students from the University of Idaho released 35 roosters there. They plan to release another 35 Wednesday and 25 next weekend so newbie hunters can get the feel of the sport.
But investment in upland bird hunting goes much deeper for the approximately 100 members of the foundation. They raise pheasant chicks at farms stretching from Potlatch to Grangeville, and release the young birds at about 10 weeks of age with the idea they will not only grow to be fair game for hunters, but also reproduce and help boost the wild population of ringnecks. In addition, the group works with cooperating landowners to improve game bird habitat by planting vegetation favored by the birds.
"The driving force for me in raising birds is to get them back to some level where they are huntable and sustainable," said foundation member George Lauchland, who lives between Troy and Deary and raises about 300 pheasants.
The foundation is the brain child of Jim Hagedorn of Viola. Its mission is to return north central Idaho to its pheasant hunting glory days when wild populations of the colorful birds were much more plentiful, and to foster hunting and conservation interest in the next generation. Hagedorn also wants to help make landowners aware of the various state and federal programs that help fund bird habitat restoration.
"There are all those programs and nobody knows anything about them," he said.
Foundation member Joel Warner, who lives outside of Troy, operates four pheasant brooders on his property. The devices are essentially nurseries for pheasant chicks. Like other participants in the program, he raises the birds and eventually releases them at about 10 weeks old. At that age, they are old enough to have a decent chance of survival, and still young enough to learn how to navigate life in the wild on their own.
The young birds are given some help after release. Hagedorn said most people who raise and release the young birds make feed available to them periodically, as a way to ween the chicks off of human dependence instead of making them go cold turkey.
Warner said he rarely saw pheasants on his property before he joined the effort. Now they are plentiful.
"I am seeing babies that aren't mine; they are breeding," he said. "I've got populations from every year I released birds. The program works. My place is proof of it."
The adult birds released for young hunters come from Little Canyon Shooting Preserve near Peck. Hagedorn said the releases will continue late into the fall, giving hunters and their mentors a chance to learn and bond in the field and develop a love for the outdoors.
"I love it," said Howard. "It's better than sitting on the couch playing video games."
Those interested in hunting at the area can make a required reservation at http://bit.ly/3524iO5. More information about the Game Bird Foundation is available on Facebook or on its website http://www.thegamebirdfoundation.org/.
Information from: Lewiston Tribune, http://www.lmtribune.com