The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is taking early registrations for its popular free youth pheasant hunts set for Sept. 16-17 at wildlife areas around the state, including the Denman Wildlife Area in White City.

The hunts are open for young guns who have yet to reach their 18th birthday. Other events are planned for Baker City, Corvallis, Eugene, Irrigon, John Day, Klamath Falls, La Grande, Madras, Portland and The Dalles.

Denman Manager Clayton Barber says kids wanting to register for either a Saturday or Sunday time for the local hunt can do so by calling 541-826-8778 during regular business hours. Preregistration is limited to 85 kids each day, and a maximum of 85 hunters are allowed afield at any given time.

But kids don't have to register early to get a space, Barber says. Standby hunters will be granted access as others leave the field, he says.

Frequently on Sunday, last-minute participants can register on site and walk in," Barber says. "There's no wait."

The youth pheasant hunt is one of the best game-bird opportunities Oregon affords its young hunters.

The agency, with the help of donations from some sporting groups, stocks 500 pen-raised pheasants in fields such as those at Denman, where volunteer hunters often bring dogs to help the kids hunt.

Last year was a year when less meant more for youth hunters at Denman.

Just 135 kids logged 326 hours of hunting, both of which were down about 25 percent from the previous year, according to Barber. They collectively bagged 179 birds for an average of 1.3 birds per hunter, and that's a little higher than the long-term average, records show.

"It fluctuates slightly over one bird per hunter annually," Barber says.

Two out of every three youth hunters hunted with a dog, either bringing their own or being assisted by an experienced dog and its handler who volunteered for the event, Barber says.

Participation is down statewide at youth pheasant hunts, but last year was a first to bring declines in young hunters at Denman, Barber says. The reason could be a last-minute glitch in online registration or that the statewide decline has caught up to Southern Oregon.

"I don't know if it's a general trend," Barber says. "We'll see this year. Time will tell."

Kids must have a valid hunter-education card to hunt. An adult 21 or older must accompany the youth to supervise, but adults can't hunt.

Both hunter and supervisor must wear a hunter-orange hat, eye protection and a hunter-orange vest, and the equipment will be provided by ODFW at the clinics to anyone who doesn't have it. Hunters also need to check in and out of the hunt.

Breakfast and lunch will again be provided by United Hunters and Sportsmen Inc. Volunteers from the Oregon Hunters Association and ODFW's hunter-education program will run the trap range and shooting clinic.

The youth hunt is always the kick-off for the pheasant season at Denman.

The annual fee-pheasant hunt at Denman will run Sept. 18 through Oct. 6. The regular pheasant season begins Oct. 7 and runs through December.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtfribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.