Pheasant hunting diversifies ranchWritten by Christy Hemken
“The first year I raised pheasants we sold 200, and now we sell about 1,000 every year,” says Jeff of the operation’s growth.
The Sagners sell individual birds to hunters who come in to hunt along Chugwater Creek for the day. The day that hunters arrive birds are set out in the field, then customers are given directions or guided to their hunt.
“We dizzy them just enough for me to get away on the four-wheeler – just enough so they’ll wake up and wander into the cover and leave a scent trail for the dogs,” says Jeff.
“Most hunters bring their own dogs out, but if they don’t Jeff can go out and guide with our dogs,” says Tricia, adding that hunters come from nearby, mostly Wheatland, Cheyenne and Denver.
Jeff says the majority of hunters come to their property to work their dogs. “A lot of those with dogs bring one or two hunters along with them to shoot the birds and they just focus on their dogs,” he says. “We get a lot of people who come here to tune up their dogs before heading on their big pheasant hunting trips to South Dakota or the Midwest.”
However, he says with rising transportation costs a trend he’s seen is that instead of taking one big trip some hunters are staying close to home and coming to hunt at Chugwater two or three times during the season.
The Sagners’ pheasant hunting season runs from August through March, although Tricia says most times their pheasants aren’t ready to hunt until September and usually they run out of pheasants before March.
“Usually the birds aren’t ready in August because we need a good cold snap to set their color. Right now the roosters and the hens are pretty much the same color,” she says. “We start hunting them when we notice the color change on the roosters.”
Jeff says the pheasant chicks are really sensitive when they’re received through the mail from Idaho at one day old; the chicks have to be kept at 100 degrees for the first week, followed by a gradual decrease in temperature.
After six weeks in the brooder house on medicated feed and water they’re transferred to outside flight pens covered in netting and surrounded by a width of tin to keep predators from easily climbing in. Chicken wire buried four feet deep around the perimeter keeps raccoons from digging under the tin and plywood circumference. Additionally, there are a number of traps set around the runs, which Jeff says don’t always deter predators even after capture.
Tricia says they buy 800 to 1,000 young pheasants each spring with the expectation of a 75 percent survival rate. If they run out of birds before season’s end they’ll sometimes buy mature birds from a supplier in Colorado.
“Every year our death rate changes with random things like snakes in the brooder house or trouble with coons, skunks, hawks and owls,” says Tricia. “Sometimes it’s the weather with snow or wind tearing up the netting over the flight pen.”
After transfer to the flight pen the birds are fed a flight conditioner, then weaned off to corn and wheat supplied by local farmers. To keep the birds wild they’re fed only once a day and they never see the dogs.
Because pheasants tend to be cannibalistic they’re sometimes fitted with blinders that are removed when they’re taken to the field. Jeff says instead of using the blinders all the time they try to keep enough room and enough cover in the flight pens so they leave each other alone.
“Most of our customers come to us through word of mouth, and we like it that way because we can get to know our clients a little better,” says Jeff.
Clients are generally 50 to 75 percent successful. Tricia says the remaining pheasants sometimes come back to the pen but are mostly taken by predation. However, the Sagners say they have seen their pheasants as far as seven miles up the creek and 16 miles down.
It was through customers that the Sagners began hosting the Wyoming State Pheasant Championship several years ago. “We provide the birds and a place for them to hunt and they bring judges and dogs to the timed competition,” says Tricia, adding that she’s seen some really good dogs compete.
Jeff says there are quite a few Game and Fish regulations to follow when hunting the pheasants, including turning in paperwork to document the number of birds hunted under their permit.
In addition to pheasants the Sagners also purchase full-grown chuckers, which are a native partridge. “A lot of guys like them when they’re training young dogs because they don’t run and they don’t flush very easily,” says Tricia.
“We have three black labs and we do like to hunt enough to keep them in training, and we’d like to hunt more but it cuts into our profits,” notes Jeff, saying that raising the pheasants and working with hunters and their dogs is a lot of fun.
Although the pheasants are a business, the Sagners say their primary occupation is ranching with Tricia’s parents, Rodger and Lindy Shroeder, who live nearby.