A flock of hunters descended on Stettler County last week for the inaugural Pheasant Festival, a five-day long hunting extravaganza designed to bolster tourism and hunting in the community.
Planned out by Canadian Badlands Tourism, the Stettler Agricultural Society and the Stettler Board of Trade in five short months, the event was very successful, according to Stacey Benjamin, one of the organizers.
About 300 hunters came in from all over Alberta, other provinces, and even from south of the border, as far away as Ontario and California, Benjamin noted.
During the five-day festival, there were morning and afternoon expeditions for the hunters in various sites all across the county.
This allowed local landowners, who had graciously allowed their properties to be used by the festival, to still control access to their properties.
As part of the hunt, each day started with the release of pheasants. Roughly 2,000 of the birds were released, of which 300 were hens. Hunters were not allowed to shoot the hens, Benjamin explained.
“This way, we can do our part with conservation,” she said. “If the hens survive the winter, they’ll have a chance to breed.”
On Friday, the hunters, landowners and organizers gathered at the Stettler Agricultural Centre for a banquet, where they were able to socialize, enjoy delicious food, and take part in the silent auction.
“We had a very healthy auction,” Benjamin said.
Given the short time of planning, Benjamin said the organizers were very pleased with the outcome of the hunting festival.
“We didn’t sell out, but that’s not bad for the first time,” Benjamin said. “The hunters were very patient with us, and they offered us constructive advice. The landowners, the county and local businesses supported us wonderfully.”
Though the organizers haven’t conducted the “post mortem” of the event yet, Benjamin said she hopes it will return again next year. Considering the amount of fun and the successes the festival had, she said it was probable.
If the festival takes place again, some of the advice offered up by the hunters will be rolled into planning the areas where the hunt took place.
Some of the properties used this year were flat and without a lot of natural pheasant habitat, so when the birds were released, they didn’t remain in the area – they went to find shelter. Shelter sometimes ended up on adjacent properties, where the owners hadn’t consented to an invasion of pheasant hunters.
Having the pheasants released more centrally on the properties used was another suggestion, as like with the flat and open areas, when the pheasants were released near land borders, a good number of the birds ended up on the other side of the invisible property line.
With 2,000 pheasants released into the wild, including the 300 hens released after the conclusion of the festival, there’s a few more fluttering wings hiding in the bushes around Stettler, bolstering the pheasant population and laying the groundwork for a healthy hunt next autumn.