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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.

End of upland bird seasons tough day for hunting dogs

HUNTING — Eastern Washington's upland bird hunting seasons for partridge and quail ended at 5:15 p.m. today.

That means my English setter is going to be a little less than fulfilled every day from now until the mountain grouse seasons open on Sept. 1.

Even the Seahawks' Richard Sherman could take a lesson from Scout on the disciplines of focus and determination in the field.

Scout would rather hunt than eat, as you can see from the photo. When I've had the privilege of owning a good hunting dog, my goal has always been to get it out on birds twice a week during the seasons. I fulfilled that commitment to his blood line pretty well this year with brief exceptions for elk season and a New Years break for skiing.

By the end of the hunting seasons, Scout is lean and hard like the basalt cliffs he contours in pursuit of chukar scent.

He'll get an unwanted chance to fatten up for a few months. We'll both have to chew on the taunting but promising memory of a flock of chukars cackling from a rock band above us as we descended from their haunts for the last time this season.

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.

Golf club offers hope for pheasant hunting season

HUNTING — PGA stallion Rory McIlroy apparently was shooting for a birdie on this hole.

I wonder if they would lease this place out for opening day of the pheasant season?

My English setter always thought of himself as a country club dog.

Pheasants chicks available for raising, releasing

WILDLIFE – The Inland Northwest Wildlife Council will be distributing pheasant chicks to people who have facilities to raise 25 or more birds for around six weeks before releasing them into the wild.

 The council provides the day-old birds in lots of 25 and charges a fee to cover costs: 

  • 40 cents a hen
  • $2.25 for roosters
  • $1.50 for half roosters, half hens.

Starter feed is available, 50 pounds for $20.

The first shipment of chicks from Little Canyon Shooting Preserve in Peck, Idaho, will be April 29 and continue every Tuesday until late June, said program coordinator Larry Carey.

They will be available for pickup at the council office, 6116 N. Market.

Chicks must be reserved in advance: 328-6429. 

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.

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.  


Photo: a pleasant pheasant morning in Montana

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Mating season is in full bloom around the region, and rooster pheasants are dressed to kill.

Check out the colors this cock displayed Wednesday for the lens of by Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson.

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.

Better days will come this season for bird hunters

HUNTING — I took Scout, my English setter, out for two, short, early morning hunts this weekend to celebrate the opening of the quail and partridge seasons.   Emphasis on short.

It's simply too dry and warm out there to be working a dog too hard.

In case you missed it in the Sunday Outdoors section, dog trainer Dan Hoke of Dunfur Kennel near Cheney has some excellent early-season tips for hunting with bird dogs.

But I did see enough birds on my short hunts to be optimistic that late hatches produced a decent crop of quail, Huns —  and even pheasants.  (I saw two young roosters that still weren't feathered out.)

November and December will be prime time.

Pheasant chicks handed out by thousands

WILDLIFE — More than 6,400 pheasant chicks have been distributed in the past few weeks to people in the  Spokane region who vow to raise and release the birds into the wild.

The annual chick giveaway program is facilitated by the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council.

The chicks are mostly hens, the byproduct of captive rearing programs that raise pheasants for hunter release sites.

Weather rough on game-bird chicks

HUNTING — Ouch.  The first week of June is prime time for the first hatch of pheasant chicks in southeastern Washington. Once again, it's being greeted by rain and cold weather, which is a sentence to death by hypothermia for the young birds.

Quail and pheasants have a built in response to nest again if their first brood fails.  

Keep your fingers crossed.

Pheasant photo triggers memories of morning walks

WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY — The one-in-a-million pheasant photo by Coeur d'Alene wildlife photographer Tim Christi sparked some pleasant memories after the S-R published it in the Outdoors section.

I received this letter last week:

"My late husband used to rise earlyl in the morning to surveyhis world before beginning his day. He often encountered a pheasant whom we nicknamed The President.

"My husband and the bird would engage each in his own language regarding who actually belonged on this sunny corn-producing hillside by the river. More often than not, they shared a joy of a new day and the joy of being part of it.

"The President shared his land for several seasons.  We knew him by a slightly crippled gait as he nibbled on young corn blades and pecked at the pumpkins.

"We will enjoy the memory via your magnificent picture."

Angie Williams, Deer Park, Wash.

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.

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.

Cool, rainy spring dampened pheasant hatch, but birds rallied

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 hatch isn't anything to crow about, but it's not as bad as hunters may have feared, at least in the Snake River region.

Surveys by Idaho Fish and Game 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 of both are down slightly from 2010 and long-term averages. Pheasant numbers are up from last year, but still be low the averages.

Read on for details in a story by Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune:

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.  

Weather doesn’t put chill on spring mating season

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The snow that blanketed the region east of Liberty Lake this morning didn't do much to cool the heat of passion underway among game birds.

The mating season is in full swing for wild turkeys, quail and pheasants.

I caught this ringneck pheasant showing off impressive spring colors this morning near Post Falls as he drew attention from potential mates and defended his territory against intrusions from other males.

I hope your weekend goes as well.