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Bird flu strikes Okanogan game farm; pheasants to be destroyed

HUNTING — An outbreak of avian influenza in a private game farm in Okanogan County is forcing federal and state agriculture officials to kill up to 5,000 ducks, geese, chickens, pheasants and turkeys.

About 40 birds at a game farm for private hunting and bird-dog training in Riverside, Washington, were sick and died over the weekend. The birds tested positive for bird flu on Tuesday.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state of Washington announced it would kill birds from the flock and establish a six-mile quarantine around it to contain the disease.

The flock represents the largest number of birds the state has had to test and possibly kill during 2015 bird flu outbreaks.

"As recently as November, the flock owners had tests run on their birds which, at that time, showed no sign of avian influenza in the flock," Agriculture officials said in a statement.

Other outbreaks of the avian flu have been reported in Clallam, Benton and Franklin county, but involved much smaller numbers of poultry. Washington state has now lifted a quarantine in the Tri-Cities but one in Port Angeles remains. No new cases have been found in either location.

An outbreak in California led to 146,000 turkeys being killed at a commercial operation. Several countries including China have banned poultry and eggs from the United States.

Rain, wind, mud… time to let the bird dogs loose!

HUNTING — Soaking wet, heading into a brisk wind with two pounds of Palouse mud on each boot — today could have been a miserable hunting experience until this "double your pleasure" moment with Zuni and Scout.

Dog, pheasant season, work: Setting priorities

HUNTING — A successful morning hunt.

Time to get back to the other office.

Opening day report: Pheasant hunting better behind a dog

HUNTING — Following a bird dog's nose through pheasant country is one of the most vigorous, intense, satisfying and rewarding forms of hiking. And the results can be delicious.

Pen-raised pheasants expensive luxury for hunters

HUNTING — As Washington has been scaling down its pheasant release program the past few years, other states are looking at giving pen-raised birds the boot.

Wyoming mulls future of pheasant farms
Since 1937, Wyoming has been raising pheasants on two farms to be released in the fall for hunters, but the cost of operating the farms is now $664,000, roughly $22 for each of the 30,000 birds released in the fall, while licenses and stamps fund just 9 percent of the program's overall cost, and the state Game and Fish Department is taking a hard look at whether the program should continue.

Father thankful for youth pheasant hunt at release site

HUNTING — Washington's youth-only upland bird season was a success for Robert Estuar and his son, and the family Lab.

"Took 14 year old Diego and dog Bella out Sunday to Fishtrap Lake for the youth pheasant hunt," the happy father reported. "Didn't take long to find the birds. So grateful to live in a region with so many recreational opportunities for our youth!"

The Estuars hunted at one of 27 pheasant release sites in Eastern Washington

  • Hint:  The youngsters didn't kill all the pheasants released prior to the youth season. The release sites present a bird dog training opportunity before the general season opens.

Also, some of the remaining pen-raised birds likely survived the coyotes and hawks long enough to seed the field for the Geezer Pheasant Season — Sept. 22-26  — for licensed hunters age 65 and older.

Pheasants will be stocked at the site about three more times during the fall, including the week of Thanksgiving.

  • Non-toxic shot must be used for hunting on pheasant release sites.

Bird hunters soon will harvest the hatch

HUNTING — Forest grouse and dove hunting seasons open Monday, giving hunters the first glimpse of how well birds pulled off their hatches in the wet weeks of June.

Is your dog fit and trained?  Probably not.

The bigger question is, "How did the pheasants do?"

I don't know the answer and there's precious little official information, since state fish and  wildlife biologists do very little survey work  on game birds anymore.

Prairie game birds such as Hungarian partridge and pheasants are ground nesters. They llay lots of eggs, 10-15 per nest in nature's hedge against the high odds of a chick hatching and surviving.

Both species incubate their eggs about 23-24 days. They'll renest if the nest is destroyed, though usually not after the eggs hatch. Chicks that die from a wet, cold snap in June or a bad July hailstorm will not be replaced that year.

That's why hunters appreciate the birds that make it this far. They're the survivors.

Idaho offers youth pheasant hunting clinic

HUNTING — This youth pheasant hunting clinic near Genesee, Idaho, isn't until Oct. 4, but sign up early. Space is limited.

Requirements: Kids must be ages 10-16 with Idaho hunting license and an adult companion age 18 or older.

Register with Idaho Fish and Game's Lewiston office, (208) 799-5010.

Bird dog club invites public to training day

HUNTING — The Spokane Bird Dog Association is inviting hunters to bring their dogs to a training day, which includes expert help for all breeds, starting Saturday at 8 a.m., at the Espanola training grounds managed by the club west of Medical Lake. 

This session will be geared more to pointers, but retrievers are welcome. Pointers and retrievers will be split into separate groups.

The public is invited to bring hunting dogs of any age or level of training. Cost: $5.

Tough hunting for Snake Canyon chukars

HUNTING — Eastern Washington's pheasant season ended Sunday in a weekend of winds gusting to 70 mph at the top of the 49 Degrees North ski area where they toppled a cell phone tower. 

I figured I had a better shot at chukars in the Snake River canyon where I could loop into bowls out of the wind.  

Indeed, I found some pleasant hunting interspersed with high-wind exposure as I hiked around basalt bands on the ridges.

But I was surprised that in 4.5 hours of covering a lot of ground, my English setter, Scout,  found only two coveys of chukars. The dog locked up solid 80 yards away from the first cover as the strong winds telegraphed their scent to his nose. But the covey flushed wild as I approached, caught the wind, and appeared to be setting wings for a wind-assisted flight to Montana.

The other covey cooperated in making my hunt successful.

But that was it.  I covered some great private land where I've hunted with permission numerous times and never have found fewer than three coveys. 

So now I'm wondering: Should I have been hunting the highest slopes that were open to the high winds?  Is that where the chukars were hanging out?

The hunting season for partridge and quail runs through Jan. 20.

Weather may give pheasants edge for season’s end

HUNTING — The Eastern Washington pheasant hunting season closes Sunday.  With the weekend forecast calling for winds gusting to 48 mph, I'm guessing the birds will be running like lighting and flying the speed of sound.

Good luck.

Cutting the fog for a day of pheasant hunting

HUNTING — Luckily, I could pass the time this morning listening to the last of the NPR Sunday morning news program as I waited for the fog to lift, but my dog was more than anxious to get out.

When I finally had couple hundred yards of visibility over the Palouse, I put my English setter, Scout, on the ground and we swept through the frosty landscape trying to get the most out of the late phase of the pheasant hunting season.

Tip:   Go for gentle terrain.  Since last weekend, the slopes have been coated with thin snow or ice, making steep hills treacherous for walking, especially side-hilling.  I aborted a chukar hunt last Sunday for fear of killing myself, and things haven't improved too much.

Last shot at Eastern Washington pheasant release sites

HUNTING — A few birds may still be hanging on at hunting sites for the Eastern Washington Pheasant Enhancement and Release Program

The final release of farm-raised rooster pheasants was made a last week, just before Thanksgiving at sites near Fishtrap Lake, Sherman Creek Wildlife Area, Snake River and 20 other areas in the region.

Despite the non-toxic shot requirement enacted in 2011, these release public land sites have continued to be popular since the program began in the late 1990s. It's especially popular with hunters who don’t have access to hunt private land.

The first releases of the year occurred at all sites before the Sept. 21-22 youth upland bird season. Two additional releases were scheduled at the sites during the general pheasant season.

Only about half the sites were stocked with birds for the Oct. 19 opener, said Joey McCanna, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist. The other sites were stocked the following week, he said. 

The agency does not divulge which sites will be stocked when.

This bit of chance and inconvenience dates back to the bad experiences agency staff had years ago when hunters often waited at designated sites for the game farm trucks to show up.  In some cases, greedy hunters created dangerous situations, sometimes even blasting away as the birds were being released.

Times have changed in other ways since the early years of the  Eastern Washington Pheasant Enhancement Program, when the Washington Legislature required 80 percent of the funding to be spent on releasing birds while the rest was earmarked for pheasant habitat efforts.

In 2008, about $270,000 was spent to release birds on the East Side and about $32,000 went to habitat.

That year, with legislative approval, Washington Fish and Wildlife managers  approved a phased-in schedule to reduce the number of birds planted until the spending equaled about 50 percent for birds and 50 percent for habitat.

“We’re right about there this year,” McCanna said, noting that 11,350 rooster pheasants were released at the sites this year.  That’s down from 11,820 last year and down from more than 20,000 birds in the initial years.

Hunter groups have supported the department’s emphasis on working with farmers to enhance habitat for wild pheasants. Methods include developing plantings that improve pheasant productivity on lands seeded into the federal Conservation Reserve Program.

Bird dog makes point on figure of speech

HUNTING — While hunting pheasants on Sunday, this is how my English setter, Scout, defined the idiom, "Got 'em dead to rights."

Bird dog surveys the harvest

HUNTING — My English setter, Scout, had six consecutive points on hens, then one solid find on a solo rooster.  

Stir-fry dinner coming up.

Father, son, yellow Lab score pheasants at Fishtrap

HUNTING — Robert Estuar and his 11 year-old son, Tomas, took a gamble on whether roosters would be stocked at the Fishtrap release site for Saturday's opening of the Eastern Washington pheasant season.

But they found birds and made the best of the day with their yellow Lab, Bella.

  • The state wasn't telling which sites would be stocked for the opener. Continue reading for details about the release program at 23 sites in Eastern Washington

Give bird dog attention before the hunt

HUNTING — My Outdoors column today bags some tips from pro trainer Dan Hoke of Dunfur Kennel for easing bird dogs into the seasons safely and efficiently.

Many hunters get all excited about opening days — forest grouse and mourning doves open Sunday.

But the best and safest hunting for a bird dog is later in the seasons, when the field is cooler, damper and there's been more opportunity to get in tip-top shape after the dog days of summer.

Upland birds getting weather break for nesting

HUNTING — I don't want to jinx the odds, but a lot of upland bird hunters are noticing this is the driest weather we've had in several years for the peak period of the wild quail, chukar and pheasant hatching season. 

Upland bird chicks are particularly vulnerable to hypothermia if cool, wet weather persists in early June.  

Last year's season was boosted by a good second hatch of birds.

This could be the year the first hatch blossoms.  


Pheasant season closes before other upland birds

BIRD HUNTING — Upland bird hunters should be aware that the Eastern Washington pheasant season closes Jan. 13 while the season for other upland birds — quail, chukars, Huns — runs through the Martin Luther King holiday and closes on Jan. 21.

Most waterfowl seasons run through Jan. 27.

Foggy memories of a pheasant hunt

HUNTING — If you were running away from your troubles, the Palouse was a good place to be pheasant hunting on Tuesday. Visibilty was minimal.  A good place to hide.

Hunting partner Torsten Kjellstrand caught a photo of me (photo above) through the fog cruising the edge of a wheat field trying to catch up to our dogs.

Unlike planes at the Spokane airport, pheasants have no trouble taking off in the fog, but we're using the visibilty issues and lack of instruments for our limited success in getting many roosters to "land" for our dogs to retrieve.

Being a geezer isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

HUNTING — Although I wasn't old enough to be allowed to carry a gun, I took my English Setter, Scout, out for some training at the Fishtrap Lake pheasant release site this morning, the second day of the new Geezer Pheasant Hunting Season.

Scout found one cock (above) in the first 15 minutes while the sunrise was still glowing orange through smoke from the region's wildfires. Then we worked for another 50 minutes without a find.

Birds had been released for las weekend's youth upland bird seasons and hunters reported roosters leftover after the weekend season closed.

But it's very dry out there. Survivial of pen-raised birds is notoriously short. 

I met a legitimate senior hunter with his chocolate Lab, having a good time but they had found no birds by 8:30 a.m.   He had other places to try…. and of course he had time to do it.

Being a non-geezer, I had to go back to work.

Youth hunter switches seats with dad; pheasants leftover for geezers

HUNTING — Daniel Kuhta, 15, ended his career of participating in youth upland bird hunting seasons Sunday at the BLM Fishtrap Lake area with a limit of pheasants, and a good weekend with his dad, Scott, their yellow Lab, Luby, and the family's new Lab pup, Max.

"This was the last year for my son to take advantage of the youth hunt weekend," said Scott, marking just one in the series of changes of teenagehood.

"He turned 15 in July and today was the first time he drove ME to our hunting spot."

"We hunted Fishtrap both days and saw lots of birds. There were a few kids out Saturday but we did not see any other bird hunters Sunday."
Fishtrap is one of 29 pheasant release sites in Eastern Washington. The next release of pheasants at the sites is likely to occur the week AFTER the Oct. 13 general phesant season opens.

Pheasant Valley preserve owner in serious condition after ATV accident

HUNTING — Jerry Townsend of Pheasant Valley Shooting Preserve and Sporting Clays near LaCrosse, Wash., is in Sacred Heart Medical Center listed in serious condition after clients found him unconscious by his four-wheeler Saturday, according to Whitman County Sheriff's officials.

See our news story.

Youth pheasant hunt delivered limit of fun

HUNTING — The new non-toxic shot rules at Eastern Washington pheasant release sites was no deterrent to a few hunters out for the recent youth-only upland bird season.   Here's a report from Scott Kuhta, who gathered his sone and dog for a father-son outting on that special last-weekend in September season:

Quick thanks for the article on steel shot requirements for pheasant release sites. I took my son, Daniel, out to chase birds on the Sunday of the youth hunt weekend. If I hadn't read your article, I probably would have brought lead shells.  I think it is a good regualtion and it sure didn't affect his shooting.  Two years ago on our first youth hunt he went through a box of shells before coming home with two birds.  This year we were done in 45 minutes, hitting 3 out of 4 birds.  My dog flushed a dozen more on the way back to the car.
I don't know what Saturday was like, but we were the only people hunting Sunday morning.  We got there 20 minutes past first light and did not see another car or hear any other shots.  LOTS of birds that are now undoubtedly done for by coyotes.

Eastern Washington pheasant hunting release sites are detailed on the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department's webpage.

The regular pheasant hunting season opens Saturday.

Area bird hunting outlook ripe with hope

UPLAND BIRD HUNTING —Hunters chilled at the thought of what the cool, rainy spring was doing to nesting pheasants and quail in June.

 Indeed, the pheasant hatch isn’t anything to crow about, but it’s not as bad as hunters may have feared in some areas.

In Whitman County, the first hatch for the most part was wiped out, said Joey McCanna, WDFW upland bird specialist. “I have heard good reports of re-nest attempts from landowners harvesting wheat,” he said last week.

In the Columbia Basin, wildlife biologists are reporting the best pheasant hatch since 2005, McCanna said. “Hunters will need to concentrate on good cover adjacent to food.”

In the Snake River region of Idaho, Fish and Game Department biologists indicate quail and Hungarian partridge had modest reproductive success and pheasants did better than the did last year, although last year’s hatch was pitiful.

 Idaho partridge populations are down slightly from 2010 and long-term averages. Pheasant numbers are up from last year, but still be low the averages.

Youth pheasant hunting clinic set near Moscow

HUNTING – Moscow-area youths ages 12-15 can register for a Youth Pheasant Hunting Clinic scheduled Oct. 1 in Genesee.

Shotgun skills will be practiced at the local trap range followed by hunting pheasants on nearby private land.     

"This will be a great opportunity to introduce young hunters to the sport of pheasant hunting," says Jay Roach, North Idaho Chapter President of Pheasants Forever.  "The goal is to make hunting a fun priority among all the other activities that vie for a teenager's time.”

Along with hunting pheasants, the youth will learn about wildlife conservation, pheasant ecology, dog handling, and the importance of respecting landowners.  Safety, ethics, sportsmanship and the hunting tradition will be given special emphasis.

The free clinic is intended for first-time hunters who have completed a hunter education course and hold a valid 2011 Idaho hunting license.  An adult supervisor must accompany each young hunter throughout the clinic.  

Advance registration is required and space is limited to 20 youth. Contact the Clearwater Region Fish and Game office, (208) 799-5010.

Sponsors include the Pheasants Forever, Flying B-Ranch, Idaho Fish and Game, Snake River Gun Dog & Sportsmen's Association, and Clearwater Point Dog Club.