Michigan used to be one of the most illustrious pheasant hunting destinations in the world.
According to a recent article from The Grand Rapids Press, hunters were harvesting somewhere in the territory of a million birds each hunting season back in the 1940s and 1950s. Since then, hunter productivity has dipped a remarkable amount, spurred on by dangerous habitat destruction and poor nesting success for the popular upland game birds.
In 2010, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources reported an annual hunt harvest of 27,000 pheasants. You don’t have to be a mathematician to know that that number is a small fraction of what it once was, a troubling sign indeed for Michigan’s pheasant population.
Michigan isn’t the only state in the union struggling with pheasant decline. Almost across the board, the spread of civilization and the development of new land has destroyed plentiful pheasant habitats and allowed the game birds nowhere to run.
Enter Pheasants Forever, a nationwide organization dedicated to preserving and rebuilding pheasant habitat. The state of Michigan is a case study of success as far as Pheasants Forever’s success is concerned. There, the organization has teamed up with the DNR for a program – called the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative – that has recruited private landowners in an effort to revitalize statewide pheasant habitats.
As of this fall, the initiative seems to be working quite nicely. Nesting numbers were up in the spring and summer this year, and the Department of Natural Resources thinks that pheasant hunters are going to see a big improvement in harvest numbers this season over previous years.
Of course, there is still a long way to go in Michigan’s habitat rebuilding effort. Despite recent nesting improvements, the state’s Department of Natural Resources doesn’t expect pheasant harvest rates to be much higher than 30,000 – less than three percent of the peak numbers from Michigan’s pheasant hunting golden age. In all likelihood, neither Michigan nor any other state will ever again break the single-season milestone of a million pheasant harvests in a year.
Quite simply, the spread of civilization is a necessary evil for our country’s burgeoning population, and allowing hunters to shoot that many birds in an autumn would simply be irresponsible in this day and age. And it’s hard to imagine a preservation organization like Pheasant Forever going for such a sweeping harvest of the birds it is working so hard to protect.
However, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources – as well as similar departments in other states currently struggling with pheasant habitat destruction – undoubtedly sees some economic motivation for working to restore pheasant population.
After all, the golden age of pheasant hunting that the state experienced in the middle of the last century was more than just a great period for hunting enthusiasts, but an age of prosperity for Michigan’s hunting economy as well.
The state became a destination for pheasant hunters, earning the DNR revenue from selling licenses and injecting extra life into Michigan’s tourism sector as well. As the harvest numbers diminished, so did the hunters interested in pursuing the birds, and the state lost the hunting destination status that it would undoubtedly love to have again.