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TATUM: Fewer pheasants in PGC’s Christmas stockings


Wingshooters and bird dog enthusiasts alike always look forward to Pennsylvania’s generous late season on ring-necked pheasants which this year runs from Dec. 26 through Feb, 29, 2024. To accommodate pheasant hunters, the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) generally schedules several statewide post-Christmas stockings of the long-tailed bird throughout the winter season.

Unfortunately, the recent detection of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) at a private Northumberland County game farm has prompted the PGC to adjust and somewhat curtail its late season pheasant stockings in order to help safeguard the agency’s pheasant program and better ensure it will continue next year in the 2024-25 hunting seasons.

That means in the next two weeks the PGC will release fewer pheasants statewide than initially planned. And here in our eastern part of the state, pheasant releases will occur only this week and not next, with properties that receive birds essentially seeing their final two releases of the year combined as one.

These relatively minor adjustments, however, could significantly reduce the risk of an HPAI outbreak with potentially devastating impacts for pheasant hunters. Here’s how.

Last week, the state Department of Agriculture announced the recent detection of HPAI at Martz’s Game Farm in Northumberland County. While the pheasants released by the Game Commission originate from a different facility, Mahantongo Game Farm, where HPAI has not been detected nor suspected, that facility also is in Northumberland County.

The proximity of HPAI to the facility represents a concern. If there was an HPAI outbreak there, agricultural regulations would require euthanasia of many or all of the breeding pheasants that provide stock for the Game Commission’s program, jeopardizing the program’s future.

In response the PGC is taking some precautionary measures. First, the agency will hold onto all of the hen pheasants, and about 5% of the roosters, that had been slated for release in the final two pheasant releases of 2023-24. Then, if HPAI remains undetected through continued testing of birds at Mahantongo Game Farm, pheasants there will be temporarily transferred to the Game Commission’s Loyalsock Game Farm. That’s why the counties served by Loyalsock will get their final two releases all at once this week. The pheasants to be released need to be cleared out to make room for those coming in.

Loyalsock Game Farm serves the following counties to be stocked this week: Adams, Berks, Bradford, Carbon, Centre, Columbia, Cumberland, Franklin (State Game Lands 235 only), Lackawanna, Lehigh, Luzerne, Lycoming, Monroe, Montgomery, Northumberland, Perry, Pike, Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Union, Wayne, Wyoming and York.

The remaining counties are served by the Southwest Game Farm, and rooster-only pheasant releases in those counties will continue as scheduled in each of the next two weeks.

“This wasn’t a decision the Game Commission took lightly, because we know that pheasant hunters have been looking forward to the late small game season pheasant releases and will be inconvenienced by our making these adjustments on short notice,” said Ian Gregg, Wildlife Operations Division Chief. “However, we believe this precautionary approach is the right thing to do because it will significantly reduce the risk of disease impacts that would be far more devastating to pheasant hunting in the long run.”

For pheasant fans here in the southeast corner of the state, the PGC’s planned winter stockings of pheasants consisted of 6,900 cockbirds and 1,340 hens. Unaffected stocking sites here in our neck of Penn’s Woods include the Chester Water Authority, Struble Lake, French Creek State Park, and State Game Lands 43. The only nearby stocking sites restricted to a single stocking is State Game Lands 234 outside of Pottstown and Blue Marsh Lake in Berks County.

A list of properties scheduled to be stocked with pheasants in the next two weeks can be found on the 2023 Pheasant Allocation page at


While the 2023-24 Pennsylvania hunting licenses remain valid until July 1, 2024, our Pennsylvania fishing licenses run concurrent with the calendar year. If you have plans to do any fishing here in the Commonwealth anytime soon, you’ll need to purchase a brand new 2024 PA fishing license. Here’s wishing all of our readers a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

Tom Tatum is the outdoors columnist for the MediaNews Group. You can reach him at