For the umpteenth time, I reread The Ring-necked Pheasant. It’s a 1945 compilation edited by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist W.L. McAtee and published by The American Wildlife Institute in Washington, D.C. It features contributions by wildlife management luminaries of the time such as Paul Errington, a professor of wildlife biology at Iowa State University, and Howard Wight, an associate professor of forest zoology at the University of Michigan. In different publications, each man was called “a pioneer of animal ecology.” These men collected their data and pulled no punches when it came to identifying sources of pheasant mortality, some of which are within a hunter’s control and border on tragedy.
In their chapter on Ohio pheasants, other researchers Daniel Leedy and Lawrence Hicks reported that hunters took an average of 29.6% of all pheasants bagged on the first day of hunting season, 17.9% on the second day and 8.0% on the third. Thus, 55.5% – more than half – of all birds harvested were taken during the first three days of hunting season.
The myth of the “wily wooster” is legendary and has a solid basis in fact. But if these data generalize, at least half of all roosters harvested during a hunting season are taken during the extended opening weekend, when about three-quarters of the fall population consists of naive young birds – relatively easy pickings. While we’re on the topic of mortality, we might as well consider its opposite – survivorship: Leedy and Hicks found that the average lifespan of a ring-necked pheasant is 10 months for roosters and 21 months for hens. The oldest reported age for a wild ringneck in North America is 8 years. Now that would have been a fun bird to hunt, not so much fun to eat.
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