HARRISBURG - Today's opening of the special small game seasons for youth is an indicator for thousands of Pennsylvania hunters to begin preparing for the fast-approaching small game seasons.

This year's special pheasant season for eligible junior hunters, with or without required license, is underway through next Saturday. Regular seasons are Saturday, Oct. 22-Saturday, Nov. 26, Monday, Dec. 12-Friday, Dec. 23 and Monday, Dec. 26-Saturday, Feb. 4.

Eligible junior hunters, with or without required license, may also participate in their special season through next Saturday. Regular seasons are Saturday, Oct. 22-Saturday, Nov. 26, Monday, Dec. 12-Friday, Dec. 23 and Monday, Dec. 26-Saturday, Feb. 25.

Both eligible junior hunters, with or without required license, and mentored youth, may participate in the special season for squirrels through next Friday. Regular seasons are Saturday, Oct. 15-Saturday, Nov. 26; Monday, Dec. 12-Friday, Dec. 23 and Monday, Dec. 26-Saturday, Feb. 25.

Ruffed grouse seasons are Saturday, Oct. 15-Saturday, Nov. 26; Monday, Dec. 12-Friday, 23 and Monday, Dec. 26-Saturday, Jan. 28; bobwhite quail seasons are Saturday, Oct. 22-Saturday, Nov. 26; and the season for snowshoe rabbits and varying hares is Monday-Saturday, Dec. 26-31.

At this week's quarterly meeting of the Pennsylvania Game Commission board of game commissioners, PGC executive director Carl Roe emphasized that the recent flooding caused by the effects of Tropical Storm Lee will prevent pheasant stockings for the late season, unaffected are the agency's long-range stocking goals. Indications are that production will allow for 200,000 pheasants to be stocked in 2012.

"Game Commission game farms were on track to have more than 104,000 ring-necked pheasants for release on public lands throughout the Commonwealth for the upcoming small game hunting seasons," Roe said. "Unfortunately, flood waters from Tropical Storm Lee wrecked havoc for tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians also destroyed pheasant holding fields at the Loyalsock and Northcentral game farms in Lycoming County.

"Initial reports showed about 40,000 birds either perished in flood waters or escaped when the netting and fencing providing containment for holding fields were swept away. Game farm employees have been working diligently to round up the birds that escaped, recapturing more than 10,000 birds for stocking on State Game Lands and other lands open to public hunting."

Roe said that flood waters affected neither the PGC Western Game Farm in Crawford County, nor the Southwestern Game Farm in Armstrong County. Combined with the birds unaffected by the flood and recaptured from the two Lycoming County game farms, the agency has reduced pheasant allocations across the state by an equal share of approximately 30 percent.

This allowed for a minimum stocking of 73,390 pheasants, including 11,510 birds for the current junior-only season. Best of all, not impacted were the 1,800 pheasants allocated for clubs that sponsored mentored pheasant hunts for juniors.

Roe said that based on PGC budget cuts first implemented in the 2004-05 fiscal year and carried forward since, pheasant propagation production levels were reduced by 50 percent to 100,000 birds. Reducing the pheasant propagation program saved the agency more than $500,000 annually, however, monies from recent Marcellus Shale-related gas leases on State Game Lands has allowed the agency to return to the 200,000-bird level for the 2012-13 seasons, which is consistent with the its Strategic Plan and Pheasant Management Plan.

Pre-season stocking of pheasants in each region will begin Wednesday, Oct. 19, followed by the first and second in-season stockings October 27 or 28, and November 3 and 4. Third in-season stocking will be conducted on November 10 in areas surrounding the Somerset, Central Susquehanna, Hegins-Gratz Valley and Franklin County Wild Pheasant Recovery Areas.