For anyone who had the opportunity to participate as a dog handler in any of last year's special Youth Pheasant Hunt the first Saturday in October, the experience was unforgettable.

What is easy to forget, however, is the advance preparation on the part of the many sportsmen's clubs with approved propagation facilities that stocked pheasants for the hunt and the special youth season created by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. That preparation began last winter when those clubs applied to the PGC to raise day-old pheasant chicks supplied free-of-charge by the agency.

Again this year, the PGC is offering free chicks to clubs meeting qualifications, and in order for Game Farm superintendents to plan and set hatches to accommodate requests, the Bureau of Wildlife Management must receive completed applications by Thursday, March 31.

Information and applications to participate can be downloaded from the PGC website at www.pgc.state.pa.us [1] by clicking on "Hunt/Trap" in the menu bar at the top of the homepage, then clicking on "Hunting" in the drop-down menu listing, then clicking "Pheasant" in the "Small Game" listing and then clicking on "Cooperating Sportsmen's Clubs Pheasant Chick Program."

In 1929, the PGC began the propagation of pheasants on an extensive scale with the establishment of two game farms. Over the next six decades, to off-set the increasing demand for pheasants from hunters, three other farms were placed into operation, and the day-old pheasant chick program was implemented and made available to sportsmen's organizations, 4-H clubs, farmers and other cooperators for rearing and releasing on areas open to public hunting.

In '59, the number of pheasant chicks distributed to cooperators reached 229,685, an all-time high, in addition to the more than 88,500 pheasants raised and released by the agency at its four game farms. Unfortunately, cooperator participation has dwindled significantly over the last few decades, and in recent years, only a dozen or so clubs have participated; raising and releasing 3,000-4,000 birds.

Because of budgetary constraints, the PGC was forced, in 2005, to reduce its annual pheasant stocking allocation from 200,000 to 100,000, which is the number of adult birds the agency released this past season and it expects to keep pheasant production at 100,000 until additional financial resources are made available. As part of the agency's pheasant management plan, however, it intends to increase that stocking effort to 250,000 birds, should increased funding become available.

"To restore self-sustaining and huntable pheasant populations, the Game Commission is committed to creating Wild Pheasant Recovery Areas, as outlined in our pheasant management plan," PGC Bureau of Wildlife Management director Cal DuBrock said. "While we strive to create these areas, we continue to urge interested clubs to participate in our pheasant chick and egg programs, and this provides wonderful opportunities to get young people involved in raising birds.

"In addition to learning about the food and habitat requirements of pheasants, they'll have the chance to see the chicks mature into adult game birds, and to help increase local pheasant hunting opportunities. The agency also offers enrolled organizations technical assistance and advice at the club's facility, and a training session and overview of agency game farm operations can be scheduled during the off-season from January through March to assist in development of the club's program."

DuBrock said that the PGC provides, free of charge, day-old pheasant chicks to clubs entering into an agreement with the agency to raise birds and promote recreational hunting on lands open to public hunting.

Gender is not determined as the chicks are boxed for distribution, but are generally at a one-to-one male/female ratio, and the number of chicks received depends on the size of the club's facility, with the agency will provide enrolled clubs with plans for a brooder building, covered pen, and guidelines for rearing pheasants.

To be eligible to receive pheasant chicks, a sportsmen's club is required to have a minimum of 25 square feet of covered pen space available per bird and 72 square inches of floor space per chick is recommended in the brooder building. All feed and expenses incurred in the work of constructing covered pens and raising pheasants will be the responsibility of the club, and all pheasants propagated by organizations must be released on lands open to public hunting.