Hotspots For New England's Fall Pheasants

Hotspots For New England's Fall Pheasants

Upland hunting opportunities abound for November pheasant hunters in southern New England, where some of the heaviest stocking of the year takes place before Thanksgiving. Don't miss this!

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Some of the best public hunting areas in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut are stocked with pheasants, and November hunting can be especially productive because many states empty their hatcheries at this time of year and stock the last of their birds by Thanksgiving.

Finding these end-of-year hens and roosters is easy if you do your homework and find the most productive areas. Here's a look at some of the best public hunting areas in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, spots offering some of the hottest upland action in southern New England in November.

CONNECTICUT

"The ratio of stocked birds to hunters is as good as it has ever been," said Mark Clavette, a wildlife biologist and Connecticut's pheasant program coordinator, noting that the Constitution State will stock its public hunting grounds with some 19,142 adult pheasants this season, plus provide sportsmen's clubs with another 1,000 8-week-old pheasants that will also be released on public land. Connecticut's stocking season begins during the third week in October (opening day is the third Saturday in October) and runs for a seven-week period. In November, all the remaining birds are released for Thanksgiving Day.

The net revenue from the previous year's sale of licenses and pheasant tags determines the budget for Connecticut's pheasant stocking program. The state also mandates that the 1,000 birds for sportsmen's clubs must be released on land that is accessible to the public.

These sportsmen's clubs are in the eastern part of the state and are made up of club-owned lands and private lands. A daily permit is needed on these parcels, requiring an extra step for the upland gunner, but it will be well worth the effort.

Clavette explained that public lands in Connecticut offer a quality hunt in perfect New England settings, rolling hills that open to fields of grass bordered by stands of hardwoods or firs crisscrossed with hedge groves and thickets.

"The state is focusing its pheasant program efforts on the best quality habitat," Clavette said. "The best sites are those with agricultural components mixed with scrub lands and forest. Most importantly, the sites must meet the demand of hunters."

On state-owned lands, farmers agree to grow agricultural crops that the farmer can harvest and sell, but the farmer is required to leave some standing corn for cover and food. These agreements between the state and farmers have been extremely successful.

"These public hunting lands could not be managed without the farming community involved," Clavette added.

The top three areas for November pheasant hunting in the western and eastern parts of the state offer a quality hunt on typical New England terrain. Hunting pressure may be high on Saturdays, but if you can get time off from work, try these spots during the week. All of the areas mentioned are stocked twice a week during the seven-week stocking season.

In the western part of the state, Goshen Wildlife Management Area is a permit-required area. Hunters must stop by Goshen Hardware (860/491-3087) on Route 4 in Goshen to pick up a permit.

This WMA covers 967 acres. The largest component of the area is open-field habitat. The area is specifically managed by the state for pheasant hunting, with rolling fields and large tracts of open fields. Some 400 birds are released on this WMA during the season. It is accessed via Route 63 north or Route 4 west.

Skiff Mountain also receives 400 birds during the stocking season. This site is on land leased from the Northeast Utilities Company and offers open areas that are pleasant to hunt. Hunters should pick up a permit at Backcountry Outfitters, (860) 927-3377). The area is in the town of Sharon and may be accessed by driving north on Route 7 to the intersection of Route 341 and crossing the Housatonic River in the town of Kent to Skiff Mountain Road.

Permit areas are posted on both the east and west side of Skiff Mountain Road.

The Robbins Swamp WMA in Canaan receives 675 birds over the seven-week period. There is no daily permit required at Robbins Swamp, which features 1,569 acres of wetlands bordered by farmlands. To access this area, travel west on Route 44 to Route 7 in Canaan.

In the eastern part of the state, the Mansfield State-Leased Field Trial Area, Bartlett Brook and Rose Hill are open to hunting and a daily permit is not required.

The Mansfield State-Leased area is in towns of Mansfield and Chaplain and offers 300 acres in flood control project lands that include a mix of terrain extending along the Natchaug and Fenton river valleys. Expect a lot of variety of cover and plenty of open areas.

To get there, take Route 44, which crosses the Natchaug and the Fenton rivers in the northern parts of the WMA. Route 6 skirts the southernmost portions.

Bartlett Brook WMA in Lebanon and Colchester contains 687 acres of agricultural and overgrown farm fields with a mix of hardwood forest and swamp. Access to this area is from Route 16 or the intersection of Route 16 and Goshen Hill Road.

Rose Hill WMA in the towns of Ledyard and Preston contains 613 acres of open fields and agricultural crops. Travel east off Route 117 or south off Route 2 to Thomas Road.

In the eastern part of the state, try Babcock Pond WMA in the towns of Colchester, East Haddam and Moodus. This site features specially designed trails for the physically disabled that are easily walked or maneuvered via wheelchair. Expect open fields and swampy areas.

This WMA was once a hunting preserve and the state has continued to manage it as such. Hunters should try the western side of the pond for pheasants. The wet areas also hold waterfowl. Drive east on Route 16 to the intersection of Route 149. BG Sports (860/267-4725) on Route 149 will issue interested hunters a daily permit.

Daily pheasant-hunting permits are issued free of charge by vendors around the state. A limited number of permits are issued on a first-come, first-served basis and may be obtained up to three days prior to use.

Biologist Clavette noted that it is a rare instance when the daily permit allotments are met. Applicants may also receive an additional

permit for a hunting buddy or two junior hunters.

Detailed maps of permit-required WMAs are available from vendors and the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection's Web site. All permit-required WMAs are posted with yellow plastic signs.

The daily bag limit on pheasants is two birds and 10 for the season. Pheasant hunters must purchase a series of 10 pheasant tags.

For more information, including maps, call the DEP's Wildlife Division at (860) 424-3011 or go online at

www.dep.state.ct.us.

MASSACHUSETTS

In November, the western district of Massachusetts offers some good pheasant hunting. This part of the state is 80 percent forested and offers a rural counterpoint to Massachusetts' urbanized eastern area of Boston and outlying towns. The western district is a good place to travel to in November when your attention drifts to gun dogs and upland birds.

"Some 4,000 birds are stocked in 52 towns in the Western District," said Tony Gola, a game biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Wildlife. "About 60 percent of those birds are stocked in October, while the remaining 40 percent are released in November."

Gola explained that the state stocks birds in 52 areas two nights per week during the season. Many times stocking takes place on Friday nights and then on a Monday or Tuesday night.

"Stocking takes place in the twilight hours," Gola said, "to give birds a chance to roost."

Coyotes and owls are a problem for states with a pheasant-stocking program. Evening releases seem to allow the lowest predator kills while still giving the state ample time to stock all locations.


Connecticut's stocking seasons begin during the third week in October (opening day is the third Saturday in October) and runs for a seven-week period.
 

In the western district of the Bay State, good pheasant hunting may be found in Stafford Hill, Eugene D. Moran, Hinsdale Flats, Housatonic Valley and Knightville WMAs.

The top spot in the western district is Stafford Hill WMA in Cheshire. This site is stocked twice per week during the season. It's a hilly region with new housing developments nearby. Hunters new to the area should obtain a map to avoid walking out of the woods into someone's back yard.

This WMA is made up of 1,592 acres of former farmland. Gola said that over 500 birds are released in three sections on overgrown field habitat. The state's Upland Improvement Habitat Program includes this and other areas throughout the district. Last spring, the site was cleared of dense old growth to encourage brushy cover. Next year, it should be covered with waist-high brush. The area is not necessarily picturesque, but the benefits of new habitat for both upland bird species and small and large game are inarguable.

To get there, drive south on Route 116 to Stafford Hill Road, which bisects the WMA. Parking areas are as indicated.

In Windsor, try the Eugene. D. Moran WMA. This is part of the state's bio-diversity upland habitat program. Gola describes the terrain as an abandoned family farm. There is a wetland section with reed grass that reaches a height of 7 feet. It is high and thick. Hunters will find an old Christmas tree plantation that is very dense. Pheasant hunters should work the edges between the high reeds and the woods.

Take Route 8A or North Street off Route 9 to access this 1,300-acre WMA.

Most of the 1,489 acres that make up Hinsdale Flats WMA are nearly level and border the headwaters of the East Branch Housatonic River. It consists of former farmland and woods. Beavers have created over 1,000 acres of wet, marshy land, so hunters should wear rubber boots.

Drive south on Route 8 to Middlefield Road, where parking areas are indicated.

The George L. Darey/Housatonic Valley WMA in Pittsfield, Lenox, and Lee is a patchwork of public land that will receive 350 birds this fall. Its 818 acres skirt the Housatonic River and feature thickets of dogwood and wetlands. It is mostly flat with some steep riverbanks. Also, expect woodcock and waterfowl. Travel south on East New Lenox Road to the intersection of New Lenox Road where hunters may access the WMA and parking.

In Huntington, the 296-acre Knightville Dam WMA is an U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control area that features lush vegetation that is dense and usually 12 feet tall by August, said biologist Gola. State workers mow paths, and trails create diverse cover types. Your best bet is to work the edge of the reservoir basin and the surrounding woodlands.

This WMA is accessible from Route 112.

Massachusetts' pheasant hunting season runs from Oct. 15 through Nov. 26. The daily limit is two birds and the season limit is six.

For more information on pheasant hunting opportunities in the Western District, call (413) 447-9789. For WMA maps, call (508) 792-7270 or visit

www.mass.gov/massoutdoors on the Internet.

RHODE ISLAND

The Ocean State schedules its pheasant stocking for the early season, said Brian Tefft, the Department of Environmental Management's chief wildlife biologist.

"We try to release birds during the primary part of the season when the weather is nicer. That's also the time when there is the most hunting pressure."

During October and November, many WMAs are stocked twice a week.

This is the state's third year of its new pheasant tag system. Tags are sold six to a book and upland hunters may purchase up to two books for a total of 12 tags.

As is the case with most states, Rhode Island's pen-raised birds are wily and hardly domesticated. As Tefft put it, they are in "survival mode" once they are released and will crouch, run and fly to flee any threat. Hunters should not expect to find birds on their own, at least not easily.

"If you have a dog, you'll find more birds," Tefft added.

Where are the best spots to hunt in November? The number one area is Arcadia WMA on the Connecticut border. This is the largest WMA parcel in the state, with 14,000 acres. It has a good mix of brushy cover and farm fields. Although it receives a lot of hunting pressure during the season, Tefft described it as a pleasant area to hunt. Arcadia's north section may be accessed north of Route 165. The south portion may be accessed south of Route 165.

Great Swamp WMA is in the southern part of the

state near the towns of Kenyon and West Kingston. This large area is dominated by farm fields and thickets and offers good access. Route 2 skirts the western edge, while Route 110 edges the eastern part.

Carolina WMA, which is also in the southern part of the state, features hedge groves and standing corn fields edged by woodland. Hunt the edges of cover for the hottest action.

Switch Road and Pine Hill Road offer access.

Buck Hill WMA is in the northwest corner of the state and offers a good mix of fields, meadows and hedge groves. From Route 100, take Buck Hill Road, which skirts the area's western edge.

The DEM has done a great deal of shrub management to help thicken low-growing plants, and perennial grass ways have been planted between crop fields and woodlands. The goal is to create strips along wood lots so the birds can find cover and food.

If you feel like hunting the only year-round resident pheasant population in the Ocean State, try Newport County's Block Island. It is the only area in the state that has a thriving resident flock of birds. There are few predators on the island, so the pheasant population replenishes itself year after year.

This is a cock bird-only hunt, and of course you'll need to take the Block Island ferry to get there.

Rhode Island's ringneck season starts the third Saturday in October 2004 and runs through mid-January. The season is closed during the shotgun deer season from the end of November to mid-December. The season limit is 12 birds; the daily bag limit is two pheasants.

For more information, call (401) 789-0281 or (401) 789-3094, or go online at

www.state.ri.us/dem.

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.