Public-Land Pheasants in Massachusetts

Massachusetts has one of the most aggressive pheasant-stocking programs in the Northeast. In some cases, birds are stocked every day! Here's a look at how you can get in on the action this month.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Robert Sadowski

Fall pheasant hunting is a New England tradition, and Massachusetts' public hunting lands still offer plenty of opportunities to hunt the rolling meadows, hardwoods and stone walls of overgrown farms. The Commonwealth's Division of Fisheries and Wildlife also maintains public hunting areas, known as wildlife management areas (WMAs), which are stocked with pheasants throughout the season.

Annually, some 40,000 pheasants are stocked in the Bay State. The lion's share of birds is released on WMAs scattered around the state that range in size from a few hundred to thousands of acres. The larger areas are in sections of the state that have more open space and less urban sprawl, but even hunters who live in the Boston, Springfield, Worcester or other bustling metropolitan areas will find a place to hunt pheasants not far from their doorsteps.

Massachusetts stocks 41 WMAs with pheasants during the upland bird season. These stocked WMAs are within five management districts: Western, Connecticut Valley, Central, Northeast and Southeast. Here's a look at some the top hotspots for fall pheasants in each district.

WESTERN DISTRICT
Berkshire County and portions of other counties form the Western District. Though it is off the beaten path for hunters living in the urbanized eastern part of the state, adventuresome hunters can expect some great sport for their efforts. According to Tony Gola, a game biologist and manager of the Western District's pheasant stocking program, the district purchases and stocks 4,000 birds each year.

Western District biologists try to stock birds early enough so that they have time to become acclimated to the release area, but they don't want to release them so early that they fall prey to predators. Most areas are stocked the day before the season opens, or "as close to opening day as possible so hunters can get the full benefit and we're not just feeding the coyotes," as Gola puts it. On opening day, 10 percent of the district's 4,000 birds are stocked, with up to 75 percent of those birds going to five of the district's WMAs. The stocking schedule (from most birds stocked to fewest birds stocked) is: Knightville Dam, Hinsdale Flats, Stafford Hill, Housatonic Valley and Eugene Moran WMAs.

In these five WMAs, birds are released twice a week after shooting hours, always on a Friday after sundown. Other stocking in these five areas takes place on Mondays and Tuesdays, Gola said. Stocking gradually tapers off until the night before Thanksgiving as final stocking occurs and the last of the birds are released.

The Knightville Dam WMA (296 acres) in Huntington is part of a flood control project leased by the state from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This area is primarily a river bottom basin that is very flat with no trees, but Jerusalem artichoke and other weeds thrive creating dense growth that is ideal for pheasants.

The area is managed by mowing strips through the brush, which can reach heights of 10 feet.

To get there from Springfield, take Interstate Route 91 north to Exit 47 and turn onto Route 66 west, and then take Route 122 north to the Knightville Reservoir area.

Some 20 miles northwest of Knightville Dam WMA in the town of Windsor is 1,239-acre Eugene Moran WMA. This 1700s-era farm offers varied upland terrain that is ideal for pheasants. Sections of this WMA include tall grass in wet meadows, as well as gentle rolling hills that contain knee-high to 8-foot-high shrubs that are perfect pheasant habitat. Released birds adapt well to this area and can be found all over the property. Moran is off Route 8A, which can be accessed via Route 116 to the north or Route 9 to the south.

In nearby Hinsdale, Hinsdale Flats WMA (1,478 acres) offers a mix of old farmland, including 50 acres of hay fields and a headwater area of the Housatonic River. The terrain is flat and is dominated by shrubs, alder thickets, beaver dams and spruce swamps.

Two towns north is Cheshire's Stafford Hill WMA (1,592 acres), which is also former farmland that was active nearly 30 years ago. Saplings and brush offer good habitat for pheasants and a challenge for the dogs.

Stafford Hill WMA consists of several different sections, and multiple areas are stocked with birds. For best results, study a map and familiarize yourself with the area before you go.

Just a short drive south from Hinsdale WMA are the scenic Berkshire Hills and 818-acre Housatonic Valley WMA in the towns of Pittsfield, Lenox and Lee.

Also in Lee and Tyringham is the Hop Brook WMA (415 acres). Farther south on the Connecticut border is the town of Sheffield, which shares part of the 875 acres that make up Three Mile Pond WMA in Great Barrington. This WMA can be found by traveling routes 57 or 23 in a westerly direction or south on Route 7. Look for the signs to Eastern Mountain State Reserve.

For more information and maps of Western District pheasant hotspots, call (413) 447-9789.

CONNECTICUT VALLEY DISTRICT
Between opening day and Thanksgiving, 10,000 pheasants are stocked in the Connecticut Valley District, according to Dave Fuller, wildlife biologist for the unit. The larger WMAs, including Herman Covey, Poland Brook and Pauchaug Brook, are stocked three times during the week: twice on randomly chosen days and always on Friday evenings. Some hunters don't or can't hunt during the week, so the Friday night stockings gives these weekend hunters a good opportunity to bag birds.

For hunters living near Springfield, the Herman Covey WMA (1,474 acres) in Belchertown and Ware is a good spot that is less than 30 miles away. Herman Covey features several small fields from 2 to 15 acres surrounded by hardwood and pine forest. Take I-90 (the Massachusetts Turnpike) east from Springfield to Exit 8 and Route 181 north. The Herman Covey WMA is along the Swift River, which parallels Route 181.

In the towns of Conway and Ashfield is Poland Brook WMA (618 acres). To get there from Springfield, take I-91 north to Route 116 west. Look for North Poland Road or Poland Road, which lead to the WMA and parking areas.

Farther north from Springfield to the Vermont border in Northfield is the Pauchaug Brook WMA (161 acres). Take I-91 north to Route 63. Pauchaug Brook is off Route 63. Also in Northfield and Gill, Bennett Meadows WMA offers more good p

heasant hunting.

Other WMAs in the Connecticut Valley District are Leyden WMA (343 acres) in Leyden on the Vermont border and the Montague Plains WMA (1,425 acres) in Montague. These WMAs are stocked once each week.

For more WMA hunting information, including maps, on the Connecticut Valley Wildlife District, call (413) 323-7632.

CENTRAL DISTRICT
During pheasant season, biologist Fuller said, 13,000 birds are released in the Central District. Hunters can anticipate working WMAs that contain fields of hay, corn and even pumpkins. Through a cooperative agreement between the state and local farmers, MassWildlife allows farmers to grow crops for profit on state-owned land, but in return the farmers are asked to leave some of the corn and hay standing to create good fall pheasant habitat. Fields may also be mowed at different heights to create a good mix of cover.

Eight large WMAs are prime pheasant-hunting hotspots, including Barre Falls, Bolton Flats, Quaboag River, High Ridge, Hubbardston, Winimusett, Birch Hill and Westboro.

A little over 20 miles west of Worcester, Barre Falls WMA contains 10,557 acres in the towns of Barre, Rutland, Oakham and Hubbardston.

Barre Falls pheasants are released three times a week, which includes a Friday night stocking. Birds are also released in anticipation of the Thanksgiving and Columbus Day holidays.

To get there from Worcester, take Route 122 north toward Rutland State Forest. This area is a short drive for hunters in the Leominster area.

Nearby in Brookfield and West Brookfield is the Quaboag River and Quacumsaquit WMAs (1,673 acres). Take Route 9 west from Worcester and travel toward Brookfield. A map is a must because there are many access and parking areas.

Also nearby is the Winimusett WMA (535 acres) in New Braintree. Take Route 67 toward New Braintree. Look for Harwich-Ravine Road and Slein Road, which offer access and parking.

An easy commute from Worcester and Leominster is Bolton Flats WMA (985 acres) in Bolton, Lancaster and Harvard; and the Westboro WMA (427 acres) in Westboro and Northboro. Bolton Flats is a marshy area north from the intersection of routes 117 and 110.

High Ridge WMA (2,049 acres) is on the New Hampshire border in the towns of Gardner, Westminster and Ashburnham. From Leominster or Fitchburg, this WMA can be accessed from Route 140 off Route 2.

To the south is the Hubbardston WMA (600 acres) in Hubbardston and the Birch Hill WMA (3,210 acres) in Royalston, Templeton and Winchendon, which can be accessed by traveling Route 2 west from Leominster or Fitchburg.

For more information on pheasant hunting in the Central Wildlife District, including maps, call (508) 835-3607.

NORTHEAST DISTRICT
Hunters in and around the Boston area who trade their workday wingtips for weekend hunting boots have plenty of pheasant-hunting options within 40 miles of the center of the city. Northeast District personnel have stocked 5,000 birds each year for the past decade, according to Eric Amati, the biologist in charge of the Northeast District's pheasant-stocking program.

Most hunters go home happy on opening day, especially if they hunt the Crane and Burns WMAs, said Amati. Some 3,500 birds are stocked per season in these two areas, and Amati said that most opening day hunters usually take their daily bag limit. Over 500 birds are stocked during the two days prior to the opening Saturday. Some 600 to over 700 birds are stocked per week following opening day and stocking continues until about Nov. 21.

North of Boston, the towns of Groveland, Georgetown, Newbury and West Newbury contain the Crane Pond WMA. A total of 2,123 acres of fragmented land within these towns make up Crane Pond.

To get there from Boston, go north on I-95 to Exit 54 and then turn west on Route 97. There are many secondary roads leading to the WMA. Ample parking is available and is indicated on maps and via signs in the WMA.

Crane Pond hunters will find scattered overgrown farm fields, mature forests, rocky areas and stands of red cedar. MassWildlife has also created areas that provide good pheasant cover.

Also in the towns of Newbury and West Newbury is the Martin Burns WMA (1,555 acres), which limits hunting pressure on weekends and holidays to 250 people per day. Hunters must register at one of the registration areas the day of the hunt and there is no fee. Amati says that 160 to 210 people hunt the area per day during weekends and holidays.

The Burns WMA, unlike other WMAs, is stocked every night, so hunters have a very good chance of taking a limit. All other WMAs are stocked once a week.

To get there, travel north on Route 95 to Exit 56.

Closer to Boston is the Harold Parker WMA in the town of North Andover. Its 3,000 acres are open to pheasant hunters. Take Route 95 until it intersects with Route 114. Travel north and turn unto Harold Parker Road, which bisects the WMA.

Other good WMAs for a fall pheasant hunt include the Ashby WMA (583 acres), which is northwest of Boston on the border of New Hampshire.

To the east are the towns of Townsend, Groton and Shirley, which hold 971-acre Squannacook River WMA. Hunters can visit these two WMAs, which are only a little over 10 miles apart, via Route 119 off I-495 or Route 2.

For more information and maps of WMAs in the Northeast District, call (978) 263-4347.

SOUTHEAST DISTRICT
In the Buzzard's Bay area in Falmouth, the Francis A. Crane WMA (1,910 acres) features oak and pine woodlands interspersed with small, open lots. The pheasant stocking area is off Route 28 where it intersects with Route 151. There's plenty of parking for hunters in designated areas.

About 40 miles south of Boston on Route 58 in Plymouth is the Myles Standish WMA (1,870 acres). This pheasant-hunting area has some 20 small ponds among the oak and pitch pine woodlands and scrub oak brush. Many secondary roads provide access to the Standish WMA and parking areas are marked by signs.

In Wellfleet, the 1,100-acre Marconi WMA features the salty scent of the Atlantic, where Cape Cod hunters chase pheasants behind the dunes in heath-like shrub brush.

To get there, take Route 6 to Wellfleet. The WMA is on the Atlantic side of the cape.

Other areas in the Southeast District include the Fall River-Freetown WMA, and in Norton and Tauton, there is the Erwin Wilder WMA. Both of these WMAs are stocked with pheasants.

Maps and other information on the Southeast Wildlife District can be obtained by calling (508) 759-3406.

FOR YOUR INFORMATION
Massachusetts' 2003 pheasant-hunting season runs from Oct. 18 through Nov. 29. Hunting hours in the WMAs are from sunrise to sunset. There is no Sunday hunting. The daily bag limit is two birds of either sex, and the season bag limit is six pheasants.

During the pheasant season, a minimum of an orange hat is required for hunters on WMAs.

For maps of Massachusetts' WMAs, hunting regulations and other related information, call (508) 792-7270 or visit the MassWildlife Internet Web sit at www.mass.gov/massoutdoors.

Small-game hunting licenses are required for all hunters 15 years or older and may be purchased at most town clerks' offices. License renewals are also available online at www.sport.state.ma.us/. The small-game hunting license fee for residents is $27.50 (or $16.26 for residents age 65 to 69). The non-resident license fee is $65.50.

For out-of-state hunters interested in visiting Massachusetts, contact the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism at (800) 227-MASS, or visit the Internet Web site at www.massvacation.com.



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