Joe Schierscher’s Labrador, Dash, flushed a pheasant hiding in roadside brush.
A couple of quick pops from Schierscher’s shotgun brought down the bird, and man and dog braved the Woodland Bottoms thicket to retrieve it.
For such opportunities, West Side hunters can thank the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s pheasant farm, which raises 45,000 birds every year, and a flock of volunteers who distribute the birds to hunting sites.
Though pheasants reproduce naturally in Eastern Washington, where the pheasant hunting season begins today, the springs are too wet west of the Cascades for the chicks to survive.
Pheasants for hunters west of the mountains are raised at the Bob Oke Game Farm, a 220-acre spread a few blocks from Centralia High School.
The facility, named for a late state senator, is the WDFW’s only pheasant hatchery in the state.
Hens can lay 30 to 60 eggs per season, depending on their nutrition and how much natural light there is. The eggs spend three weeks in hatchery buildings, which are heated to 100 degrees.
More than 90 percent of the eggs hatch successfully, game farm manager Chris White said. When the chicks are strong enough, they’re allowed to run outside.
Unlike huge industrial barns that mass-produce chickens and turkeys, “our birds are always outside,” he added.
The pheasants fatten up in 100-by-600-foot netted areas, where they eat well. “They’re never allowed to run out of food,” White said. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are wheat with no chemicals or antibiotics added. “It’s natural – all organic.”
The pheasants spend about 24 weeks in the pens, growing fat and putting on feathers. Then their life of leisure is over.
On distribution days, farm workers holding sections of fence herd the birds into a dark enclosure. Like cats, pheasants aren’t easily herded – they have to be scooped up by hand and stuck in plastic kennels. As many as 2,000 birds are trucked out in a day.
About 50 members of the Vancouver Wildlife League take turns for the twice-a-week transporting of birds to the Woodland Bottoms and two release sites near Vancouver.
When the birds are released, “for the most part, they look like, ‘Where in the hell am I?’ ” said Larry Snyder, president of the Vancouver Wildlife League.