Nearly two centuries ago, the ring-necked pheasant came to the United States from China as a domestic import. Its first successful wild introduction was in 1881 on the West Coast.
This magnificent bird began its rise to stardom in southern New England in the early 1900s, when a few birds were released for hunters. Since then, the bird has become the premier upland game bird in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Pheasants do not survive in sufficient numbers to maintain a natural population, so wildlife agencies in all three states purchase adult birds from breeding farms. They release these birds periodically throughout the season into selected areas, allowing hunters to enjoy pheasant hunting well into the fall and winter.
For a small state, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management does an admirable job of keeping pheasant hunting alive. Each year between mid-October and mid-January, the department releases about 5,000 pheasants. According to department reports, most of the birds are released before Thanksgiving. Hunters get a second shot at them in early January, when the department releases additional birds.
The following four Rhode Island public-hunting areas are highly recommended for pheasant hunting this fall:
Buck Hill WMA
Pheasant hunters will enjoy this 1,390-acre hunting area in the northwest corner of the state. Here, much of the land consists of small rolling hills, with a mixture of open fields and mature forests. Avid pheasant hunters will find many birds along the forest-field edges near Croff Farm Brook. As the season progresses and hunting pressure mounts, concentrate on the small marshy areas scattered through the property. Many bird hunters bypass these productive wetlands in favor of dry ground.
Access to Buck Hill WMA is off Route 100. From Providence, take Route 44 westward towards Connecticut. In Chepachet, take Route 100 north for about eight miles to Buck Hill Road. Head west on Buck Hill Road for about two miles to the parking area. Another access point is adjacent to Wallum Lake off Route 100 near the Massachusetts state line.
Sapowet Marsh WMA
Diagonally across the state in Tiverton, pheasant hunters can chase their quarry in the 192-acre Sapowet Marsh WMA. The topography, as the area’s name implies, is wet and marshy, ideal habitat for pheasant. Another unique aspect of this hunting area is its close proximity to major population centers and the Sakonnet River. Hunters visiting or working on Block Island or the nearby city of Fall River, Mass., can easily squeeze in a half-day pheasant hunt. Sunday hunting is prohibited in this area.
Access to Sapowet Marsh WMA is off Route 77. From Fall River, take Route 24 south toward Block Island. Take Exit 5 in Tiverton and travel south on Route 77 for about six miles to the four corners. Turn west on Neck Road, which leads into the wildlife management area.
Eight Rod Farm WMA
Also in Tiverton, Eight Rod Farm WMA is a former farm with a nice mixture of old fields and brushland. It’s not important to visit Eight Rod Farm only on stocking days, since the birds exit and re-enter the property routinely throughout the season.
In contrast to Sapowet Marsh, Eight Rod Farm is relatively flat and dry, but several small ponds and wetlands dot the stocked part of the property to hold pheasants. As on Sapowet, hunting on Sundays is prohibited.
Access to the Eight Rod Farm WMA is off Route 77 south of the four corners mentioned above in Sapowet Marsh. The property lies past Nonquit Pond on the east side of Route 77 at the Tiverton-Little Compton town border.
Nicholas Farm WMA
Many Ocean Staters report that this area offers the best pheasant hunting in Rhode Island. Part of the reason is the cooperative stocking program between Rhode Island and Connecticut. Nicholas Farm WMA abuts Connecticut’s Pachaug State Forest. The DEM releases pheasants into Nicholas Farm, while the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection stocks pheasants into Pachaug State Forest. Hunters on either side of the border flush the birds back and forth. Because both states stock pheasants once or twice per week, the two hunting areas are usually well supplied with birds throughout the season.
Nicholas Farm contains a 1,500-acre blend of small farming fields, some mature forestland and small shrub lots. The birds move around between the different habitats to give hunters and their dogs a well-rounded experience.
Access to Nicholas Farm is off Route 117. Take Exit 5 off I-95 onto Route 102 north. Follow Route 102 to Route 117. Turn west toward Greene. In Greene, Route 117 makes a sharp turn northward. The road then turns westward to a T-intersection. Route 117 goes right, but you will turn left onto Lewis Farm Road. Continue on Lewis Farm Road to Nicholas Road. Several parking slots are available off Nicholas Road.
Rhode Island resident license fees are $18 for the season. Non-resident license fees are $45. Hunters also need a special $15.50 pheasant-hunting permit.
The pheasant season opens Oct. 15 and runs through Jan. 15. The daily limit is two birds, with a season limit of 10.
For more hunting and licensing information, contact the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s Division of Fish and Wildlife at (401) 789-3094 or visit www.state.ri.us/dem. For travel information, call the Rhode Island Tourism Division at 1-800-556-2484.
Pheasant hunting in Massachusetts is maintained through a well-managed stocking program. Every autumn, MassWildlife releases about 40,000 pheasants into over 40 wildlife management areas. Four recommended pheasant spots are:
Barre Falls WMA
This is one of the largest hunting areas in the state, covering over 10,500 acres. Along with MassWildlife, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Metropolitan District Commission cooperatively manage this area.
Because of this area’s immense size, hunters will find a wide variety of habitat. Deer and turkey hunters target the forested acreage, which also supports grouse and other game. Mixed within the forests are numerous small open fields, marshy areas and shrubby swamps that hold the stocked pheasants. Brush pants are recommended.
Access points are off Route 62 about four miles east of the town of Barre. Hu
nters will find plenty of signs pointing the way to public-access points for the northern end of the property. Adventurous hunters can sweep around the WMA on Route 122 to the southwest or Brigham Street to the east, where they will find a few smaller access points.
Herman Covey WMA
Many hunters refer to this area as the Swift River Wildlife Management Area because the Swift River runs through its 1,474 acres. The hunting terrain includes steep ledges, gentle hills and flatlands along the Swift River. Along the river, hunters will also find several manmade ponds and beaver flowages that provide additional wildlife habitat.
For the pheasant seeker, this tract of land has several large open grass fields and brushy fields. Hunters will also find numerous patches of the invasive autumn olive, multiflora rose and staghorn sumac. These plants are considered to be ecological trespassers, but they do provide cover for stocked pheasants. Hunters without dogs should concentrate on the autumn olive and rose stands.
The access point is off Route 9, about halfway between Belchertown to the west and Ware to the east. Like most WMAs in Massachusetts, Herman Covey is clearly marked with signs.
Crane Pond WMA
This area is divided into five parts totaling 2,123 acres. Parking is scattered around each parcel and is well marked. Much of the land is farmland that was abandoned decades ago. The smaller hillocks have now become overgrown with trees. Land managers have cleared small open patches throughout the WMA to provide habitat for pheasants and other wildlife. Hunters will also find a high-tension powerline running through the property, making for easy access.
The Parker River, a stocked trout water, flows through the southern portion of the area. Two small ponds that attract pheasants are also near the river. Access is via Exit 56 off I-95 in Byfield. From the exit, travel west toward Byfield and then turn south on Main Street. Turn right onto Forest Street, which leads into the heart of Crane Pond WMA.
Myles Standish WMA
Pheasants, of course, were not in Massachusetts back when the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock, which lies a mere five miles away from this prime hunting area. But quail were here, and both quail and pheasants can be found in good numbers today.
The stocked area contains about 1,870 acres, which are divided into a 1,150-acre “Pheasant Area” and a 720-acre “Quail Area.” The pheasant area features a mixture of oak, pitch pine and scrub oak woodlands, interspersed with many small fields. The quail area holds seven fields, each about half a mile long. Hunters will find 22 ponds in the pheasant area and three ponds in the quail area.
MassWildlife has secured numerous parking areas, providing access into the forest. To get started, take Exit 3 off Route 3 south of Plymouth. Turn left to Long Pond Road. Follow Long Pond Road for about two miles to Alden Road. Turn left. After about three miles, Alden Road leads directly into the pheasant stocking area. (To access the quail area, turn off Alden Road onto Cobbs Lane.)
License fees for Massachusetts residents are $27.50 for the season. Non-resident license fees are $65.50. The pheasant season opens Oct. 14 and runs through Nov. 25. The daily limit is two birds, with a season limit of six. Sunday hunting is prohibited in Massachusetts.
For more hunting and licensing information, contact the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife at (508) 792-7270, or visit www.masswildlife.org. For tourism information, contact the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism at 1-800-227-MASS.
A few years ago, the Department of Environmental Protection revised its stocking program to better distribute birds for hunters. As a result, hunters will see about 22,000 pheasants this fall. About half of them will go into state forests and wildlife management areas. The remaining birds will be released into special permit-required areas. In total, nearly 50 hunting areas will be stocked between mid-October and Thanksgiving.
Four stellar pheasant areas include:
Barn Island WMA
The 942-acre Barn Island Wildlife Management Area lies in the extreme southeastern part of the state. It is not really an island, but rather, is part of some old Colonial farms. Hunters will find a mixture of hardwood forest, active agricultural lands, old farm fields, grasslands, salt marshes, brackish-water marshes and freshwater wetlands.
Because of the property’s layout, hunters should expect to do some walking if they want to find pheasants. Parking is ample, but the stocked fields lie deep within the property. For access, take Exit 91 off I-95 in Stonington. Follow the signs to Route 1. Turn west onto Route 1 for about one-quarter mile.
Turn south on Green Haven Road. Take the first right onto Palmer Neck Road. Follow the signs to the state boat-launching area and WMA parking lots. Or continue on Green Haven Road and take the next right onto Stewart Road for another entrance and parking lot.
Cromwell Meadows WMA
Along the Connecticut River flood plain in Cromwell and Middletown, this 496-acre tract receives a good helping of stocked pheasants. The property is mainly marshland, especially after a heavy rain. But some creative ditching has produced plenty of open, semi-dry areas for pheasants. Even so, waterproof boots are a must when hunting this area.
Access is off Exit 18 from Route 9 north of Middletown. From the exit, take Route 99 north for about half a mile to South Street. Turn left on South Street. About one mile down South Street, the parking area is well marked.
Thomaston Dam Recreation Area
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created a flood-control project across the Naugatuck River in Thomaston. Hunters will find two distinct hunting areas at the dam. On the east side of the Naugatuck River is a large flood plain of grass and scrub brush. The pheasant fields lie close to the parking areas.
The west side of the river offers better hunting opportunities, since the DEP stocks this side of the river heavily. Hunters may drive across the dam to the parking area, and then walk about one-half mile down a paved road to the stocked fields.
This part of the property has a mixture of flood plains, managed food plots, shrubby wetlands and forest.
From the north, take Exit 40 off Route 8. Hunters coming from the south should take Exit 39 off Route 8. Follow the signs to Route 222 and Thomaston Dam. To access the west side of the Naugatuck River, cross the dam. Hunters planning to hunt the east side of the river should continue on Route 222 past the dam to the Lead Mine Brook entrance.
Babcock Pond WMA
This 1,208-acre hunting area in Colchester and East Haddam offers excellent pheasant hunting habitat. Part of the property’s appeal is the DEP’s vigilant maintenance program. Each spring, department personnel mow the fields to prevent trees and
shrubs from reclaiming the land. In fall, strips are cut into the grass to provide edge habitat for the birds and walking paths for hunters.
This WMA is a permit-required area. B&G Sports in Colchester issues the free permits on a first-come, first-served basis.
To get there, take Exit 18 off Route 2 in Colchester to Route 16. Travel west on Route 16 for about six miles. The main access is off Route 16 at the state boat ramp.
License fees for Connecticut residents are $14 for the season. Non-resident licenses cost $67. Hunters must possess a special $14 pheasant-hunting permit. The pheasant season opens on Oct. 21 and runs through Jan. 15. The daily limit is two birds, with a season limit of 10. Sunday hunting is prohibited.
For more hunting and licensing information, contact the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection’s Wildlife Division at (860) 424-3011, or go to www.dep.state.ct.us.
For tourism information, call the Connecticut Tourism Division at 1-800-282-6863.