Don Whitney, of Gray, releasing pheasants at property he owned in 2013. Whitney was one of several landowners who allows their land to be a release site for the state sponsored birds. Courtesy/Scott Lindsday

SCARBOROUGH — For locals who are “game,” upland bird season is coming up, which means the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is busy stocking the southern part of the state with about 2,000 ringneck pheasants.

Each year the state receives the birds from a breeder in western Massachusetts and the first shipment will be distributed at Cabela’s in Scarborough at 8:30 Sept. 26. If rain is forecast for that day, onlookers should expect the dropoff on Sept. 25.

Opening day this year for upland bird season is Sept. 28, giving the new arrivals a couple days to adjust before they are in hunters’ sights.

“These birds are native to China. They are very colorful game birds and iconic,” said longtime pheasant program participant John Bernard of Portland. “This will be historic due to it being the first time ever in the state hunting season opened prior to Oct. 1.”

Volunteer John Bernard of Portland. who is credited for keeping private landowners interested in hosting pheasant release sites. Courtesy/ Scott Lindsay

Volunteers, mostly from local hunting and fishing groups, meet at numerous sites across Southern Maine to release adult birds into the wild to be hunted in the following days. Birds are released on the Crompton Property in Gorham, Gervais Farm in Scarborough and the Kennebunk Plains Wildlife Management Area, as well as a number of other locations in the Gorham and Buxton areas. A complete list of release sites is on the IFW website, though many of the sites are on private property.

According to IFW biologist Scott Lindsay, the ringneck pheasant is a hunting favorite, as the birds are both beautiful and easy to spot.

“This program has gone back to nearly the 1950s,” Lindsay said. “It started with birds that were raised and hatched out. Essentially, those birds were distributed throughout the state and stocked in different sites, and sometimes eggs were sent out to farms and they would have those eggs incubated and released.”

The program once stretched throughout the state but has now been limited to York and Cumberland counties, as pheasant acclimate better to the climate in southern Maine, and bird hunting is lacking compared to the north, Lindsay said. The birds are also now transported as adults to avoid the high mortality rate that accompanies the transportation and release of young birds.

Once the birds are delivered in Scarborough, volunteers bring them to the approved release sites across the two participating counties. They are released in waves of about 600 birds over the month of October.

Bob Chapin of Portland releasing birds for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife at a stocking site. Chapin is a longtime member of Windham-Gorham Rod and Gun Club. Courtesy/Scott Lindsay

“(Releases) are done three times during the month,” Lindsay said. “That has gone very well and is very much reliant on the volunteers we have through the club. John (Bernard) is one of them, as well as dozens of other folks. These birds are all released on properties we have permission for, mostly private property and some of our state wildlife management areas.”  

In addition to stocking a desired hunting bird for recreation, the program has a real financial benefit for hunters, allowing pheasant hunting to be a fiscally conservative hobby.

“It’s an affordable way to hunt, a pheasant stamp is $19 and is good for the whole season,” Lindsay said. “There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work and that’s what we do.

“We are just happy that the season is coming and our prep and hard work are done, and we see people out there appreciative of it.”

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