State developing two pheasant sites in Skagit County

  • Thursday, August 12, 2010 9:02am
  • Sports

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has — rightly or wrongly — a somewhat dubious reputation among a number of traditional outdoor sporting types in this area, but every once in a while our fish and game managers clearly do something right.

A couple of years ago, for instance, it looked as if the longtime, pen-raised pheasant hunt on the Skagit/Stillaguamish deltas was in its death throes. A controversial program to blow dikes and flood lowlands for juvenile salmon habitat closed two of the most popular public hunting sites available to metro-area upland bird hunters — the “Smith Farm” (Leque Island), just west of Stanwood, and the “Headquarters Unit” of the Skagit Wildlife Area, on Fir Island, west of Conway.

The state tried to mitigate some of the loss by planting pheasants at the Skagit WA’s Samish Unit, near Samish Island, but the ploy didn’t fly. Serious confrontations, some nearly coming to blows, were reported between pheasant and waterfowl hunters on the unit after the duck and goose seasons opened. That fiasco, plus the fact that it didn’t appear to a lot of northwest Washington bird hunters that the department was making a significant effort to replace the lost public lands, led to the suspicion among many that the state would really rather pheasant hunting on much of Puget Sound just quietly go away.

But looky here, ye of little faith. Agency game managers are about to announce two land parcels in Skagit County are being developed as released-pheasant hunting sites, hopefully to open this fall.

The first is a 145-acre tract off Hoehn Road, about 3.5 miles east of Sedro-Woolley and a 17-minute drive from the Cook Road exit on I-5, north of Burlington. Access to the tract is being provided by a local couple, Steve and Julia Taylor Keefer, and there is livestock adjacent to the tract (including a couple of irritable bulls) that must be respected.

The second piece belongs to Bonneville Power and lies about four miles east of the town of Clear Lake and 11 miles from the College Way exit off I-5 in Mount Vernon. It’s called the Janicki Road site and is 100-acres-plus, with lots of brush and some sidehill areas that will be a little difficult to hunt.

“The Hoehn Road site is signed and sealed,” said volunteer coordinator Doug Huddle, retired outdoor writer at the Bellingham Herald, “and the Janicki site should be (finalized) in a week or two. The department has told me there are the same number of birds available for all sites, including the two new ones, that we’ve had in the past.”

The two-day youth pheasant hunt in late September, and the four-day senior hunt directly after the kids get out of the field, still will be held at the Samish Unit, Huddle said.

He said that a couple of tracts being looked at in Snohomish County haven’t panned out, at least not yet, even though those involved in the program feel it’s “appropriate to have a release site in the county.”

A lot of people, both landowners and state personnel, will be watching this experiment on private lands, Huddle said.

“If these are orderly hunts, where the participants respect the neighbors, keep the places clean, and follow the signage and regulations, it could open the door for more sites in the future,” he said.

Huddle said he hopes to have maps of the sites on the state Web site soon, under the “Go Hunt” section that shows release sites and public hunting areas around the state.

Both new sites need volunteer labor to cut brush, establish parking areas, put up signage, and other tasks to ready them for the fall season. Huddle has done an excellent job without pay, but he needs help. Call the agency’s Mill Creek office at 425-775-1311, or e-mail and specifically mention you’re volunteering to help with the two new Skagit County pheasant release sites.


The state Fish and Wildlife Commission established 2010-11 migratory waterfowl hunting seasons at its Aug. 6-7 meeting in Olympia, setting the statewide duck season for the usual split, Oct. 16-20 and Oct. 23-Jan. 30. The special youth hunting weekend is scheduled for Sept. 25-26.

The commission reduced the daily limit in Western Washington for scoters and long-tailed ducks from four to two, and for goldeneye from seven to two. Special limits for hen mallard, pintail, redhead, canvasback, harlequin and scaup remain the same.

Goose hunting seasons vary by management area across the state, but most — including northwest Washington snow geese — open Oct. 16. These seasons will be similar to last year in most cases.

The commission, however, approved restrictions on the use of decoys while hunting snow geese on Fir Island in Skagit County, and another new rule prohibits hunting snow geese within 100 feet of paved public roads in the county. Those changes were made to address hunter conduct and safety concerns.

The 100-yard regulation is pretty much self-explanatory, but the new decoy rule is meant to address, according to state waterfowl manager Don Kraege in Olympia, a “firing line mentality, wastage and an increase in high shooting and other unethical practices.”

Hunters after snows on Fir Island will be required to deploy a minimum of 24 snow goose decoys, set up in a reasonable “spread,” and attended at all times.

“We talked about certain shotshell restrictions to help limit high shooting,” Kraege said, “but decided to see how it goes this season and perhaps institute the shotshell rules next year, if needed.”

He said the new waterfowl pamphlet was put online Tuesday, and should be printed and at license vendors by Aug. 20. For information on the special Fir Island Quality Snow Goose Hunt, go to the department’s Web site.

Check out Wayne Kruse’s blog here.

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