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Pheasant History

The Ringed-necked Pheasant was imported to America from Asia, and no other game species introduced to this continent has been as successful at flourishing as the pheasant. One of more than 40 species originating in Asia and Asia Minor, these birds from the genus Phasianus are perhaps better known than any of the other 15 groups of pheasants in the world. All are related to the partridges, quails, grouse and guinea-fowls which make up the order Galliformes or chicken-like birds.

Archeological evidence suggests that large pheasants lived in southern France in the Miocene period, some 13 million years ago. The Greeks knew the bird in the 10th Century B.C. and we have adopted their name for the species, Phasianus ornis (phasian bird), derived from the Phasis River (now Rion) near the Caucasus Mountains. The Chinese knew the pheasant some 3,000 years ago, but the Romans are considered responsible for the spread of pheasants in western Europe. When Julius Caesar invaded England in the first century B.C., the pheasant followed.

It wasn't until 1733 that the pheasant appeared in North America, when several pairs of the black-necked strain were introduced in New York. Other pheasant varieties were released in New Hampshire and New Jersey later in the 18th century. Not until 1881, when Judge O.N. Denny released some 100 pairs of Chinese ring-necks in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, did the pheasant really gain a foothold in the United States. Since then, pheasants have been propagated and released by government agencies, clubs and individuals, and for all practical purposes are established everywhere on the continent that suitable habitat exists.

It was introduced to South Dakota in 1898 and is easily recognized by its colorful plumage. It is also known for its delicious meat. Since it is primarily a Midwestern bird, pheasant is considered a delicacy in many other states. Populations in North America are now well established in areas containing farmlands and native grasslands and have "replaced" prairie chickens in much of the Midwest. Huntable pheasant populations can be found in Oklahoma, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, California, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, and many other states.

Pheasants require weedy fence rows, ditch banks or brushy woods for escape cover. Pheasant populations struggled in the U.S. during the 1960's and 1970's due to a lack of required cover as a result of agricultural practices.

Pheasant populations have benefitted enormously from the Conservation Reserve Program in the U.S.. CRP involves the planting of vast acres of native grasses by farmers in agricultural areas. CRP benefits many species of wildlife including upland birds, waterfowl and deer. Government agencies continue to struggle over the issue of the CRP program's future here in the U.S. Efforts of hunter groups like Pheasants Forever have succeeded in ensuring the program's success, at least in the short term.

Many hunting strategies are successful for pheasant and both pointing dogs and flushing dogs are widely used. As many a pheasant hunter will attest, these birds are very crafty and successfully outsmart even the most experienced hunters and dogs on a regular basis. Pheasants love to run and will do so even in the slightest amount of cover. Every effort should be made to get to a downed bird as soon as possible, as it only takes a few seconds for a cripple to cross the nearest county line.