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Hundreds of pheasants released near Hardin to attract more hunters

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Posted at 12:28 PM, Oct 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-28 14:41:07-04

BILLINGS - Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) recently released 500 pheasants near Hardin in a program called Roosters for Recruitment.

It's an effort to recruit and create lifelong hunters in the state.

The pheasants were raised at the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge and have been released in various spots across the state.

The goal is to boost declining bird hunting numbers.

"The whole idea is getting people to go out and have success. That’s going to drive more interest. More interest in going outdoors and going out hunting," said Steve Rockhold, habitat specialist for Pheasants Forever, a conservation group.

A decline in license sales has meant a big decline in important revenue for the state.

The Montana Legislature passed a bill in 2021 authorizing the wildlife department to use $1 million on a pheasant stocking program.

"We’re trying to recruit new hunters and retain hunters and reactivate hunters that might’ve lapsed," said FWP special projects manager Deb O'Neill.

It remains to be seen whether the program will be successful.

Montana had just over 17,000 licensed pheasant hunters in 2020. In 2004, hunters topped 18,000 and just six years ago it even soared to more than 21,000 hunters.

"The idea was that if we release pheasants, that will give more people a chance for success and just the experience of going out and hunting. Because hunting used to be one of the traditions where everybody went out and did it. Your dad took you out and all those kinds of things. We're hoping that can come back," added Rockhold.

FWP also hopes that higher success will also help to hook young hunters on the sport.

"They get that joy and excitement of their first harvest and then they’re more likely to continue and that’s what we want to do. We want to take away some of the barriers and help people be successful on their first hunt," added O'Neill.

It's a way for the state to not only generate revenue but maintain interest in a sport rooted in its history.

"It helps put forth the notion that it helps support wildlife habitat, and really, that habitat is for all wildlife. With urbanization and urban sprawl and all that, we just continue to lose wildlife habitat. And that habitat is so important in order to be able to maintain wildlife populations," Rockhold said.