MICHIGAN – Once upon a time, the opening day for ring-necked pheasant hunting in Michigan was an
event. Thousands eagerly waited for mid-October, taking days off work and even skipping school to participate. In the ’40s and ’50s, Michigan’s farmlands were a pheasant hunter’s paradise, with harvests reaching 1.4 million birds in 1944.
Sadly, times have changed. The agricultural landscape transformed, leading to a decline in pheasant numbers. The number of pheasants taken in 2017 was only about 12,855, a far cry from the sport’s heyday. The change in farming practices and the loss of small fields and pastures contributed to this decline.
In response, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) partnered with organizations like Pheasants Forever to enhance habitats. However, with landscape-scale changes unfeasible, efforts shifted to improving hunting experiences.
In 2019, a pilot program was launched focusing on male pheasants, optimizing the number of birds available for hunting. After pausing in 2020 due to the pandemic, the program resumed in 2021, funded by a newly-required pheasant license.
For the 2023 hunting season, hunters will have a broader range of areas to explore, with 13 state game areas across southern Michigan participating in the program. Over 6,000 roosters will be released starting just before the October 20 opening day, and the budget for this year is $150,000—triple the amount spent in 2022.
Though the program focuses on southern Michigan, the benefits of enhanced hunting experiences are making waves across the state, bringing nostalgia to older hunters and new thrills to the younger generation. While it may not return to the glory days of the past, pheasant hunting in Michigan is experiencing a revival, much to the delight of hunters young and old.
Releases will occur on the following state game and wildlife areas:
- Crow Island State Game Area (Bay and Saginaw counties).
- Dansville State Game Area (Ingham County).
- Lapeer State Game Area (Lapeer County).
- Pinconning State Game Area (Bay County).
Note: For detailed information, please refer to the DNR website. A special pheasant license is required for public-land hunting.