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Pheasants fly away: Local residents release birds into the wild

Fritz Korthals (from left), Jeff Flynn, Gary Prins and Jim Lesnar release four of the 1,500 hen pheasants on private land near Worthington. (BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE)1 / 2
A close-up is shown of one of the mature female pheasants that was released recently in the Worthington area. (BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE)2 / 2

WORTHINGTON — For Don Basche, pheasant hunting is more that just a sport. It’s a family tradition.

“My son is a hunter and lives in Minneapolis and my grandson is a hunter,” Basche said. “We do it as a family.”

In an effort to help raise the pheasant population, Basche — and others throughout the Worthington area — have released mature female pheasants into the wild. Each of the pheasants will lay eggs this spring.

“The birds that we let out this year are not only the mothers of the little ones they have this year, but some of them will produce again next year,” said Fritz Korthals, who was a part of a group who released birds. “Plus, the females that are born this spring and survive will also produce next year and hopefully the next, making it fruitful for years to come.”

Basche purchased and released 15 on his own land. Another group had 60, he said. In all, Basche estimated that 1,500 birds were released in the Worthington area.

“These pheasants that we received from South Dakota, these hen pheasants — this guy raises a very large number of pheasants and we got 1,500 in this area,” he said. “There are many, many people doing this.”

Korthals said the harsh winter and an increasing number of predators has hindered the pheasant population.

“Pheasants, when they are young and small, are very weak and fragile,” he said. “Cold and wet weather is really tough on them. However, a mature pheasant is strong and hardy. They survive snowstorm after snowstorm out in the wind and the cold day and night.

“Although they can withstand a lot of winter weather, they also have many predators to contend with,” Korthals added. “One of the worst or largest predators are the coyotes.”

Basche admits that not everyone agrees with the practice of releasing birds into the wild.

“There’s pros and cons on this releasing of the hen pheasants,” he said. “Some believe that those pheasants are not going to survive. I think our original pheasants started in China. They got here someway and were released into the wild also.”

While pheasants raised like chickens would find it challenging to survive in the wild, Basche said, the way these were raised gives them a better chance. 

“If you raised 40 pheasants in a small building and everyday you fed them like you would chickens, they would become very tame,” he said. “Then you release those out into the wild — they would never survive, predators would have them right now. 

“These are last year’s chicks, so they are a year older and they are laying hens and they are bred. There are male roosters in the pen, so they are bred.”

The hunters acknowledge that not every single bird released will last, but that doesn’t stop them from trying.

“Whatever you can do to increase the population of pheasants and keep it rolling, you’re going to help some,” Basche said. “Whether they all survive or not ... but the pheasants in the wild that we have not brought in, they don’t make it either. Winter could be a problem, predators are a great problem — coyotes and fox and hawks and whatever it may be that could get the young ones and get the old ones.”

Like the advocacy group, Pheasants Forever, Basche said the group believes habitat is the most important. Because of his belief, he has voluntarily taken farmland out of production.

“We have 26 acres out there that we converted to wildlife,” he said. “I farmed it, but we decided as a family to take that out of production. I’m not a farmer, I’m a former teacher and coach. In our 26 acres, for example, we planted eight acres of trees and all kinds of tall grasses and put in a pond. So we have some habitat for those hens we were releasing.

“We’re not releasing them into a plowed field and saying, ‘Survive.’ We’ve taken probably every precaution that we can in our setting for survival.” 

This is the fourth year Basche has released birds.

“We want to add to the population in case there is winter kill or predators get them,” he said. “We feel it’s a necessity to replenish that. I believe in it. 

“We’re creating a situation to enhance more pheasant population. We also feed them and do whatever it takes.”

Daily Globe Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.