Fog clung to the lowlands, shrouding the features of the landscape and stealing the color from the trees and shrubs of the wildlife area. The bright orange of the hats and clothing that the hunters wore for safety seemed to be the only color that could pierce the grayness.
A heavy dew dripped off the bent-over heads of grass in the fields, and every step through that grass dampened the boots a little more. Julie Rouzee and Randy Dalton of the Vancouver Wildlife League followed their well-trained Llewellin setters as they crisscrossed the damp field, the dog’s tails wagging fiercely, their noses working hard.
One of them snapped to attention and froze. Honoring the point, the other setter froze as well. Both hunters moved in slowly.
With an explosive flush the cock pheasant lifted into the air, its bright colors cutting through the morning gloom, its long tail trailing behind it like ribbons in the breeze. A couple loud retorts from the shotguns shattered the morning quiet, but seemingly did nothing to slow the bird. He vanished into the mist.
Pheasants 1, hunters 0.
Undeterred, hunters and dogs pressed on.
The western Washington pheasant release program offers hunters a chance to target upland birds in Vancouver’s backyard, and dozens of local hunters were out taking advantage of this urban hunt. The program sustains an autumn bird hunting tradition in a state poor in upland habitat, by raising pheasants and releasing them for hunters to chase.
The birds are raised at the WDFW state game farm near Centralia, and many are released on segments of the Shillapoo and Vancouver Lake state wildlife areas by volunteers with the Vancouver Wildlife League.
It’s no small task, but the league steps up to do it every year. It’s not quite a stretch to say this program might not come off without the hard work of wildlife league members like Rouzee and Dalton.
Chris White manages the state game farm, and he reports that the Shillapoo and Vancouver Lake wildlife areas received a few more pheasants this year over last.
“We actually raised more birds this year,” White said. “38,000 total for western Washington. There were 4,600 to 4,700 birds released to Vancouver this year.”
White offered effusive praise for the way the Vancouver Wildlife League supports the program.
“The wildlife league doesn’t just help with the releases,” White said. “They come up to the facility twice a week and do all the distribution. It would take several staff members to accomplish that. They all respond to snow requests, too. When snow falls on the nets they come up and knock the snow off, and if there is damage, they work to replace the damaged netting.”
“They are also key players when game farm staff feels overwhelmed. If we are short on staff, they all come up and help us feed, push the birds out, and move equipment around.”
“They are a huge piece of the Southwest Washington pheasant release program.”
When the league’s volunteers release the birds, they take special care to spread them over the areas as widely as possible.
Their motto is “Every dog has a point or a flush, and every hunter has an opportunity for a bird.”
Gordon Labauve was following that mantra as he released birds on a recent evening. He drove the truck around the Vancouver Lake Wildlife Area, releasing two or three birds here or there, trying carefully to keep the birds from immediately flying off to private lands.
He often commented on the quality of the birds.
“That’s a good one,” he would remark when a fine specimen flew strongly out into the cover.
Pheasants are not easy to take, even pen-raised birds. As the hunters worked that day, they were confronted with wily pheasants that buried themselves in wild rose thickets, refusing to flush, or running and flushing out of range, or refusing to be pinned down with a point.
The program is winding down for the season, with the last plantings conducted just yesterday, and the hunting for pheasants will close after Sunday.
To take part, Washington residents must purchase a western Washington pheasant license, which costs $84.50 for adults and $40.50 for youth (under 16). The bag limit is two pheasants of either sex per day. A three-day permit is also offered for $40.50 for residents.
The general western Washington hunting season runs from late September to the end of November, and hunting is allowed from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. each day. Some areas may not release birds at times due to flooding or other conflicts.
Nontoxic shot is required for all upland bird, dove and band-tailed pigeon hunting on all pheasant release sites statewide.
As the morning wore on muffled shots were heard in the distance from time to time, a sure sign that other hunters were getting their chances.
By about 10:30 a.m. most of the covers had been worked, and most of the birds flushed. Hunters started bailing out, and eventually Rouzee and Dalton decided to give it up for the day.
But the lure of the pheasant’s flush will bring them back, dogs in tow, time and again.
Pheasant hunting in western Washington continues daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Sunday.
Hunting permit is required. A three-day permit is available for $40.50 to state residents. There is a two-pheasant daily bag limit.
For more information on the work of the Vancouver Wildlife League, go to their website: vancouverwildlife.org/
Julie Rouzee’s pheasant breast appetizers
Your holiday guests will enjoy this simple three-ingredient recipe for tasty and fun appetizers. Adjust the ingredients to the amount of pheasant that you have been lucky enough to harvest.
Pheasant breast fillets, cut into finger-food size chunks
Directions: Marinade pheasant breast in Italian dressing for about one-half hour. Cut bacon strips to size and wrap them around the fillets. Sear the wrapped fillets quickly in a pan, and finish on the grill.