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Denman's fee-pheasant program still an upland game-bird hit

It's ironic that the only place local upland game-bird hunters can unleash their dogs with a good guess that they'll flush a few pheasants is smack-dab in the middle of White City's industrial area.

The Denman Wildlife Area and its popular fee-pheasant hunting program represents the best shot for hunters and their flushing dogs to find success.

This tried-and-true program opened Monday after last weekend's youth-only pheasant hunt on Denman off East Gregory Road in White City. It runs through Oct. 6.

Four-hundred farm-raised pheasants will be released systematically into Denman's grass fields for hunters taking part in this 19-day hunt. The birds are purchased from an Idaho farm with a reputation for breeding good-flying birds.

Participants buy a special $17 tag to kill two pheasants a day on Denman tracts, often using hunting dogs to flush pheasants from carefully manicured fields regularly restocked with fresh birds.

Begun in 1989, the program artificially creates pheasant densities and hunting opportunities lost to development in Western Oregon, and it offers an incredibly predictable upland game-bird experience at Denman, as well as three other state-owned wildlife areas.

Hunters historically have averaged about .4 birds per trip at Denman, as well as at E.E. Wilson, Fern Ridge and Sauvie Island wildlife areas, according to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife statistics.

"What's remarkable to me is how constant hunter success has been over that time period," says Dave Budreau, ODFW's upland game-bird coordinator. "At .4 birds per trip, I think most hunters feel they have a reasonable opportunity to harvest a bird."

So hunters who buy a fee-pheasant tag can expect four or five days afield for that $17, compared to the cost to hunt at private pheasant ranches.

"It's a good deal, in that way," Budreau says.

At Denman, ODFW releases 400 birds throughout the hunt. Participants also hunt over what's left from last weekend's youth hunt, for which 500 birds were stocked.

While program managers try to stock the fields nightly, the stocking schedules are not announced to allow flexibility in bird delivery and release.

Denman averages about 800 hunters each season logging about 1,880 hours in the field, statistics show.

Hunters can buy as many tags as they choose. Participants must carry a valid hunting license, an upland game-bird validation, and an HIP validation. All hunters must check in and out of hunt areas at self-service stations and carry the permit while in the field.

While the adults participating in the fee pheasant hunt fare well, they can't match the success of last weekend's youth pheasant season.

Over two days, 157 hunters younger than 18 hit Denman's fields for a total of 406.5 hours, Denman Manager Clayton Barber says.

They shot 212 birds, for an average of 1.3 birds per hunter, Barber says. Two-thirds of the youth hunters were aided by a flushing dog, either one they brought or one provided by a volunteer dog-handler who was in the field with them, he says.

The pheasant program is installed at three other Oregon wildlife areas, and the foursome receive 3,300 birds annually.

The fee-pheasant hunts at E.E. Wilson near Corvallis and Fern Ridge near Eugene run Oct. 1-31. The Sauvie Island hunt also opened Monday and runs through Oct. 1.

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