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Landers: Seniors-only pheasant season puzzles

Outdoors editor and columnist Rich Landers. (The Spokesman-Review)
Outdoors editor and columnist Rich Landers. (The Spokesman-Review)

I’ve always looked up to senior hunters, even before I began aging precariously close to their ranks.

But tell me: At what age does a sportsman deserve a special Geezer Pheasant Hunting Season, like the one that will debut this month in eastern Washington?

Don’t get me wrong: Most old farts are admirable. Much can be learned by heading to the field with a hunter who’s logged five or six decades of experience.

Moreover, today’s senior hunters are the first generation to have paid for wildlife management during their entire sporting career. The Duck Stamp was born during the Depression and in 1937 an 11 percent federal excise tax on guns and ammo was directed toward preserving wildlife habitat.

Washington stepped up years ago and gave seniors a shot at antlerless deer during the first days of the white-tailed deer season. That seemed like a legitimate tip of the hat to their contributions while addressing a need to reduce antlerless deer numbers in some areas.

Seniors gained extra opportunity many of them enhanced by joining multiple generations of friends and family during the general deer hunting season.

That option has been erased in recent years because deer herds are struggling. Some seniors resent it. Others agree with wildlife managers that the health of deer herds comes first.

What about pheasants?

Eastern Washington’s pheasant population is a fraction of what it was 30 years ago. The state’s figures are clear about that.

So why are we introducing a Sept. 24-28 statewide pheasant hunt for seniors only?

None of the five state wildlife biologists or managers I’ve contacted has been able to explain exactly how this new season came about. Dave Ware, wildlife division manager for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, could not be reached.

When the rule-setting process began last year, Ware announced the agency would follow the governor’s directive to go lightly on changes to rules and seasons unless there was a conservation factor involved. The new hunt strays from that directive.

Mick Cope, the state’s former upland game manager, was transitioning to another job last winter as hunting proposals for 2012-14 were being discussed.

The Geezer Season was not mentioned in the original round of proposals from the agency. But Cope said he recalls the suggestion coming from a sportsman who wanted the opportunity for seniors to hunt at pheasant release sites immediately after the youth upland bird season.

That September senior season has been offered for years in Western Washington, where nearly all pheasant hunting is done at release sites.

The proposal makes sense to that point. Youths generally are not efficient in harvesting the pheasants released for their special season. Better to let seniors enjoy the fun of cleaning up the expensive leftover roosters rather than simply leaving them to fatten hawks and coyotes.

But somehow the reference to “pheasant release sites” was dropped from the proposal and – POOF! – we have a new five-day Geezer Season on all lands across the state.

Perhaps it was too difficult to define the limits of a release site, one biologist guessed.

Any area can be defined.

The mentored youth season has widespread support, but a senior season will confuse landowners who might rightly wonder, “Why are these hunters here a month early when second-hatch roosters aren’t even fully feathered?”

If someone on the Fish and Wildlife Commission had just given this a bit of forethought, a much better set of senior hunting packages could have been offered.

Obvious options include:

An Aug. 29-31 Geezer Grouse Hunt. Nobody seems to care about forest grouse anyway. We upped the daily limit to four and continue to hunt and road-hunt the birds starting Sept. 1 even though surveys indicate the bulk of the duskies killed in the first two weeks of September are females and their young of the year.

A year-round Geezer Wolf Hunt. Seniors who already have a pelt on their wall from their effort to extirpate wolves in the early 1900s would be excluded. It’s reasonable to limit senior hunters to just one lobo per lifetime until wolves are off the state endangered species list.

A mid-August Geezer Dove hunt. Normally a storm moves in and pushes the bulk of the doves out of the region a day or two before the Sept.1 general season. Let’s let seniors get a little action before all those doves fly south to wintering areas where a rich hunter will brag about shooting a thousand a day.

Given these reasonable opportunities, maybe seniors would agree to eliminate a poorly thought out September pheasant hunt.

Tags: outdoors