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This is going to be a great weekend for countless young hunters.

But it’s going to come at a cost.

Saturday marks the start of the state’s junior pheasant hunting season, when youngsters 16 and under can take to the fields in search of one of the most challenging and exciting hunting opportunities in the state. Two weeks later, the rest of us get to join in the action.

But here’s the deal. There are few wild pheasants in our state these days. Instead, the Pennsylvania Game Commission must stock birds that it raises on its farms. It’s placing some 240,000 of them this year.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll know that number is up 25,000 from last year. And the reason why is quite interesting. The wildlife agency has decided to cut costs and no longer breed pheasants. Instead, if the program continues, it will buy day-old birds from private hatcheries.

In other words, those extra birds you may be lucky enough to find this month are the literal lifeblood of the program. They’re the breeders.

The reason those critical birds will be set loose is pretty simple. The agency tasked with managing the state’s wildlife is in the midst of a financial crisis. It hasn’t been allowed by the state’s elected leaders to raise license prices (the bread and butter of its funding) since 1999.

“It’s no secret the Game Commission has been navigating some rough financial waters,” said Game Commission executive director R. Matthew Hough. “Seventeen years without one adjustment for inflation to our primary source of revenue — the hunting license — will do that.”

One area the agency can save money is through its pheasant program. In fact, officials are warning that this may be the last year for stocking if it doesn’t get the necessary funding it needs.

In other words, this year will be great. There will be plenty of pheasants. But next year, well, there may not be a next year for this popular program.

That’s no good.

This is a season that’s quite close to my heart. The very first time I took to the field, I had the opportunity to harvest one of the pheasants the state raised and released. It created a day of memories with my dad and grandpa that has stuck with me for decades.

That’s why I urge anybody who can to grab a youngster or two on Saturday and take them pheasant hunting. They may not get another chance.

To take advantage of this week-long season, youth must be between the ages of 12 and 16 and have successfully completed a hunter-trapper education course.

Nearly any so-called old-timer will eagerly tell you about the good ol’ days of pheasant hunting in Pennsylvania. The days of hunting birds that were born and raised in the wild are just about over. Now, the days of hunting stocked birds may be waning, too.

I urge you to let your voice be heard and, just as importantly, get out there and enjoy the hunt.

You may not get another chance. All those birds you may see in the field this season come at a great cost.

Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sports@yorkdispatch.com.

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