State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

On Point

by on November 02, 2017 3:44 PM

Hunting is a tradition that has deep roots in American history, and hunters have been a major force in preserving and maintaining habitats for wildlife. Theodore Roosevelt once said that, “The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must and we will.” It is the duty of hunters to act as stewards of the land on which they hunt and fish.

Today, the sale of hunting and fishing licenses provides much-needed funding for state-run conservation programs. In addition, all over North America, local sportsmen’s clubs raise money for conservation efforts and lobby for legislation to protect undeveloped lands.

Regardless of your personal views toward hunting, living in Central Pennsylvania, we all know friends and family who hunt. Millions of Pennsylvanians look forward to this time of year as the chill of fall is synonymous with the opening day of hunting season and the thrill of the chase. Hunting has become a family-oriented activity, and many lifelong bonds are created when a young person reaches the right age to accompany adult family members on a hunting adventure.

Recently, I got an opportunity to leap into the world of hunting dogs. Waking up at 7 a.m. to the sun promptly emerging through the hazy sky one day this past October, I meet with avid hunter Gary Darrin at Talleyrand Park in Bellefonte. He led the way to a pheasant reserve near Beech Creek, which is owned by his friend Dr. Nicholas “Doc” Dicuccio.

Doc, a retired Lock Haven surgeon, introduced me to his 6-year-old Elhew pointer Dolly. Dog breeder Robert Wehle started Elhew Kennels in 1936, and this breed is his last name spelled backward. Elhew pointers were genetically bred to have exceptional natural instincts with an eagerness to please. When properly developed to hunt and exposed to game, they can become effective hunting companions at an early age.

“Elhew pointers are very smart dogs and with Dolly, she started pointing at 3 months!” says Doc.

Growing up in Butler, Doc’s father had 23 beagles trained to hunt pheasants. “I have been hunting with my own dogs since the 1960s and I started raising pheasants on this 500-acre reserve since 1975,” explains Doc. “I have a special license to raise pheasants and at one time, I was raising about 2,000 birds a year, but nowadays, I have about 300 birds in my pen.”

After the pheasants were guided to one of the capture pens, Darrin netted six birds and carefully placed them in cages to be taken out to the fields to be released. Interrupting the tranquil silence of the countryside, Dolly, with a bell on her collar, was ready to point and flush out the birds. She dashed through the beautiful rolling prairies of native grass fields and strips of sorghum, as she quartered methodically and energetically, following the scent left by the pheasant.

In training a hunting dog, the handler uses simple commands as well as praise to reward the dog for finding the birds. The bell is used to help locate the dog in the tall grasses as well as to know when the dog is on point, motionless with its tail pointed upward and its snout toward the pheasant. When the dog points, it holds that position until the handler comes up, gives a command, and proceeds to flush the bird while the dog remains like a statue. “Whoa!” Doc says. “Good girl, there’s the bird!”

Native to Asia, the ring-necked pheasant is so commonplace in North America today that people may not realize this colorful, grouse-like bird was first introduced as an Oregon game bird in 1881. Subsequently, pheasants were introduced to other states across America and populations thrived in grassland habitat and farmlands with brushy cover.

Males are called roosters or cock birds, and females are hens. The standing height of a rooster is about 1 foot, weighing in at about 2-3 pounds. A hen's plumage is a subtle, camouflaging mixture of brown, black, and gray. In contrast, a rooster's feathers are a mix of red, brown, gold, and black. A rooster has scarlet cheek patches, a white neck ring, an iridescent greenish-black head, golden-brown breast, and a greenish-gray lower back. Tail feathers of both sexes are brown with black bars.

The loss of sustainable populations of wild ring-necked pheasants in Pennsylvania is attributed to habitat loss caused by the changing farmland landscape as well as predators. Since pen-raised birds lack the survival skills, annual stocking is required to maintain hunting opportunities.

This year, the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners approved the creation of a $25 pheasant stamp, which pheasant hunters must buy on top of the regular hunting license fee of $20.90 for adult residents. Junior hunters are not required to purchase this stamp, but must be accompanied by a licensed adult. Previously, the agency had been running four game farms where pheasants were reared. The cost to raise and stock 240,000 pheasants was $4.7 million in 2016.

In January, the Game Commission closed two of its pheasant farms and changed the program so that breeding stock is no longer maintained to produce eggs that hatch the birds stocked each year. Going forward, the agency plans to buy 200,000 day-old chicks each year, and raise them at the two remaining game farms. It’s expected that stock will result in releasing about 170,000 pheasants for hunters to chase. It is hoped that the pheasant stamp will raise about $1.5 million each year, which will be put toward the $3 million program.

The 2017 pheasant hunting season is October 21 to November 25, December 11-23, December 26 to February 28 (a special junior hunters’ season ran October 7-14), with a limit of two birds per day and six in possession.  

“Even on Doc’s pheasant reserve, you still need a hunting license and the pheasant stamp, but since it’s private land, you can hunt on Sundays and later in the evening,” explains Darrin. “Joining your local chapter of Pheasants Forever is the best way to get informed about pheasant hunting and finding dog handlers who will take you out either to designated state game lands or to pheasant reserves like Doc’s.”  

Founded in 1982, Pheasants Forever is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection and enhancement of pheasant and other wildlife populations in North America through habitat improvement, land management, public awareness, and education. With more than 600 chapters across the United States and Canada, it has spent $260 million to help fund 347,000 habitat projects affecting 4.4 million acres across North America.

Pheasants Forever empowers local chapters to determine how 100 percent of their locally-raised conservation funds are spent. This allows chapters to fund efforts in their own communities.

The North Central PA Pheasants Forever chapter #630 partnered with the Game Commission and land owners on many habitat projects including plantings on state game lands. They also hosted two mentored youth pheasant hunts this past October, where volunteers paired youths with a dog handler to hunt pheasants for two hours near Shawmut. Accompanied by a parent or adult, the goal is to coach youth on the importance of firearms safety, wildlife habitat, and hunting technique.

Before attending the free hunts, youths were required to complete a three-hour safety lecture, dog demonstration, and practice on the trap field at the Fox Township Sportsmen’s Club the weekend before junior pheasant hunting season opened.

On the opening day of junior pheasant hunting, 60 youths and 30 dog handlers met at 7 a.m. near Shawmut. “The Game Commission released 360 birds for the youth hunt and two extra birds for every hunter we have today,” explains Larry Haag, secretary of the North Central Pheasants Forever chapter. “We raise all our funds for the youth and veteran hunts as well as our habitat projects through raffles and an annual banquet in April.”

Dan and Amy Quagliani started pheasant hunting when their son Nick was 12 years old. He is now 22 and has moved away from the area, but the Quaglianis continue to lead youth pheasant hunts with their 8 year-old German shorthaired pointer, Abby.

“Training hunting dogs isn’t hard because depending on the breed, it’s just in them to go on point, but it takes a lot of discipline and it can be expensive,” says Amy. “The electronic collars can be upwards of $700 with GPS, not to mention the vet bills, and any other equipment you might need for training.” Dan adds, “Abby is part of our family. She is 99 percent companion, and 1 percent hunter!”

The Quaglianis are also members of the Fox Township Sportsman’s Club in Toby, which started in 2007 to raise pheasants for youth hunting. With the support of the Game Commission and local landowners, they were able to designate 350 acres for habitat projects, pheasant pens capable of raising 600 birds, and areas for youth-only pheasant hunting.

Many of the youths who were introduced to pheasant hunting through the mentored youth hunting program have now become dog handlers themselves.

“I enjoyed spending time with my dad and interacting with the hunting dogs,” says Kat Runyan, who started as a hunter at age 13. Now 18, she has trained her German shorthaired pointer, Max, and takes youths pheasant hunting through the program.

Likewise, Melissa Wehler started pheasant hunting when she was 12 and now at age 23 she takes youths out with her 4-year-old German shorthaired pointer, Rugar, every Saturday when the season opens.

Seventeen-year-old Kaitlyn Draa is learning to train her 9-month-old German shorthaired pointer, Tucker. She fell in love with pheasant hunting four years ago and participated in the youth hunt this year. Invited to join Draa on the hunt, we hiked out into the state game lands with Larry Haag’s two hunting dogs, Penny, an English pointer, and Rags, an English setter. For the next three hours, we trekked through the tall grasses chasing the dogs in search of pheasants. Even though Kaitlyn didn’t get a pheasant this year, she did get to shoot at three pheasants flushed out of the fields by Haag’s hunting dogs.

“Pheasant hunting is a gateway to big-game hunting,” says Maurice Craig Barr, a member of the North Central PA Pheasants Forever. “I teach our youths that we don’t harvest anything that we don’t plan on eating! So, after you get your pheasant, I teach youths how to field-dress the bird. Soak the breasts in a quart of water with 3-4 tablespoons of salt, and a tablespoon of white vinegar to kill any bacteria. Set in the refrigerator for a day, dry, wrap, and into the freezer, if you are not planning on eating it right away.”

Training a hunting dog can be an expense and requires a lot of patience as well as time. Luckily, many of the hunting dog breeds have been selectively bred for key genetic characteristics such as a keen, discriminating sense of smell, a body structure built for strength and endurance, an internal drive to continue to work, and finally, pointing and retrieving instincts. Some of the most popular hunting dog breeds include Weimaraner, German shorthaired pointer, English pointer, English setter, and English Cocker Spaniel, to name a few.

Purebred hunting dogs from quality lineage cost between $700 and $1,500 depending on breeding. In addition, the hunter can expect to spend another $800 to $2,000 per year to feed, house, train, and care for the dog. That doesn’t include all the collars, bird launchers, dummy birds, live birds, and other gadgets that may be required to aid in training the dog to bird hunt.

Lion Country Supply, at 11746 S Eagle Valley Road in Port Matilda, is the area’s premier hunting dog supplier since 1974. It’s truly a one-stop shop for everything, including advice, for the hunting dog trainer and enthusiast. In addition, LCS also sells its products online on its website and through its mail-order catalog.

Some of the products available include electronic collars, beepers, harnesses, leashes, bird launchers, bumpers, aviaries, crates, kennels, hunting gear, dog boots, shotguns, and ammo.

Owner John “Buck” Koritko currently has five English setters that he has trained to hunt woodcocks, grouse, and other game birds.

“When I first came back to State College, I brought my English setter Tina with me, and then got two Finley River bred Walker coon hounds and built a pen for them behind my shed,” says Koritko. “So, my dogs now, other than one, are all descendants of my Tina. Aunty Rosa is 14, her brother I’m Lucky Too (Deuce) is blind, but still loves to hunt. I got Deuce a girlfriend, Speed, and their pups are Trey and Wild Lily.”

Behind the kennel on his property, he has aviaries for pigeons and other birds that he uses in his training. Over the years, he has not only tested every product he sells, but has made improvements to the products to make training easier for dog handlers.

At age 24, Koritko left his job as a school teacher to join his best friend Ed “Rags” Regula to start a raw-fur business in State College in 1974. “I bought a used house trailer, put up a 14-by-14 aluminum shed about 8 feet away, obtained the necessary licenses, and opened Lion County Fur Post,” explains Koritko. “Grouse hunting by day, fur buying in the evenings and coon hunting with my coon hounds at night, life was simple, yet so grand!”

Soon after, he built an addition next to his shed and started selling dog food, collars, bells, traps, and lures. His new business, Lion Country Supply, was gaining acceptance and in 1980, he moved his old fur post to Port Matilda. “For the next 12 years, I supplied both locals and traveling sportsmen with feeds, dog supplies, guns, ammo, fishing tackle, and live bait,” says Koritko. 

In 1996, he moved his business once again to its current location and has expanded to ship products internationally through internet orders, with dealers in 23 countries. Nowadays, he is invited by manufacturers such as Garmin to speak at conferences nationwide about the different E-collars, which he sells at his store, for hunting dogs.

Dogs have long been called man’s best friend and have a long history of playing the role of partner to the avid outdoorsman. It is quite an experience to watch a pointer streaks across a grassy field like a bolt of lightning, obediently going on point, and then the sight of the pheasant’s tail feathers leaping into the air. There is such great anticipation and excitement that builds up to that moment that the sound of the concealed bird exploding up off the ground is an adrenaline rush.

Every bird hunter and dog handler I spoke to had one thing in common — the love for their dogs. The dogs are members of their family. Some might say that with such a close connection and intimate level of involvement, the hunters have bird dogs in their blood, and their lives are greatly enriched by their canine hunting buddies.

For more information about Lion Country Supply, visit www.lcsupply.com. For your local Central Pennsylvania Pheasant Forever Chapter, visit www.centralpapheasants.org. For more information about the North Central Pennsylvania Pheasant Forever Chapter, visit www.northcentralpapf.org.

 

Comments
Disclaimer: Copyright © 2017 StateCollege.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.