The Prison Dairy Program was created to teach prisoners post-release work skills. After a major milk purchaser cancelled, the Montana Legislature inexplicably pivoted the program to raise pheasants for Fish, Wildlife and Parks for $1 million per year with the goal of recruiting youth hunters. A worthy goal but using a program that has failed before. No word on how many pheasant raising jobs there are for released convicts.

I hunted state stocked pheasants as a teen. We could see the birds in the field, at the signal we moved in. It’s a miracle no one was injured in the ensuing barrage. I finally found a rooster, after several attempts at getting it to fly, I ground sluiced it.

Even as an eager teen I knew it wasn’t the real deal, I never asked to go back. Some years later I walked a ditch weeks after a pheasant plant. I found nothing but piles of feathers, at least predators enjoyed the program.

In fact, studies have shown that less than 1% of the stocked pheasants survive a year to reproduce. The cost of putting a bird in a young hunter’s bag runs up to $70. That’s why Montana, most other states and national Pheasants Forever abandoned pheasant stocking decades ago.

The million dollars was diverted from the Upland Bird Program to conserve and improve habitat to grow wild pheasants and other gamebirds as a sustainable resource.

FWP purchased 2700 pheasants to release at seven Wildlife Management Areas this year. My brother happened upon one of the releases. The roosters had short tails, little color and were hard to distinguish from hens.

Most birds just stood there after release. The bird that flew the farthest landed on the deck railing of a nearby house. Another bird flew out into a road to be squashed by a truck. Montana can do better by its youth hunters and gamebirds.