UTAH LAKE WETLANDS PRESERVE, Utah — The sun just started peeking above the mountains to the east as Jensen Thurgood, 12, and McKay Thurgood, 17, accompanied by their father, worked the wetland fields south of Utah Lake in search of pheasants on the opening day of the youth pheasant hunt.
McKay Thurgood walked through the waist-high weeds behind Duke the dog in hopes of trying to flush up a rooster pheasant. Jensen Thurgood walked beside his brother, learning how to hunt pheasants, as this was his first experience carrying a shotgun during the hunt.
“Last year I just walked the fields with my brothers,” he said. “I was getting anxious waiting for a bird to jump.”
The brothers weaved their way through the field in hopes of getting a shot off at a rooster as groups beside them were flushing up birds and taking shots. After 45 minutes of walking through the field, Duke stopped and pointed at a bird.
“Ok, get ready boys,” the boys’ father said in preparation for the bird to flush out.
Without warning the bird came out of the weeds; however, it was a hen, which is illegal to shoot. The hen, which would be the only bird to flush up that day, cackled as it flew away.
“It’s a bloodrush,” Beau Thurgood, 15, said about when a bird flushes up.
The Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) in Utah is changing the way the youth pheasant hunt operates this year.
Instead of one day for the youth, three days are granted for young hunters to get out and experience pheasant hunting without the crowds on the opening day.
Hunters 17 years old and younger with a hunter’s education card and a hunting license are allowed to go on public land and wildlife management areas (WMA). In years previous youth hunters gathered at select WMAs to go out as a group under the direction of the DWR. Hunters filled out an application online, answering a few questions and writing a short essay about why they want to hunt pheasants. Now young hunters are encouraged to go out during the three-day youth hunt to find pheasants before the general season starts in November.
The DWR released roughly 150 roosters for the youth on the Friday before the opening day. Throughout the general season the DWR will release around 1,000 roosters per region in Utah, with five regions found in Utah. Every other weekend the DWR will release another 350–400 roosters, increasing the opportunity for hunters to shoot at pheasants. In cooperation with the Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and the DWR, the pheasants which will be released throughout the season.
The opportunity given to young hunters to hunt pheasants before the general season started within the last ten years. The Carr Fork WMA in Tooele, Utah, hosted the first youth hunt. With the overcrowding at the Carr Fork event the DWR decided to expand the youth hunt to other WMAs found in the state, eventually hosting one youth hunt in each region.
“We (DWR) are trying to get the youth more excited about hunting pheasants in Utah,” said Scott Root, an employee of the DWR’s central region. “We are working with hunter’s education classes to shoot clay pigeons with shotguns, and paper targets with .22s, so youth can get more comfortable shooting shotguns.”
Hunting for pheasants has become more difficult as housing developments and farmland practices destroy habitat and nesting sites. With wild populations dwindling, the DWR saw the opportunity to make a change and help pheasant hunters.
With the DWR dropping more birds than ever this season, pheasant hunters will have a great chance at flushing up more pheasants.
“If you don’t like the crowds on opening day, just wait and go another weekend,” Root said.
Even though the Thurgood boys didn’t get a pheasant on the opening day, they plan on going out again when the general season starts in November.