OPINION — No one is really sure who released the first pheasants in South Dakota, but the city of Redfield certainly has to be given credit for the first successful release. That was in 1908. A Sturgis newspaper account notes that around 1900 the first birds were put out in Meade County, and nothing further was written about that particular release.
Some years later a Doctor A. Zeitlitz released birds into Split Rock creek near Sioux Falls. Those birds seemed to have survived for a couple years but then disappeared.
In Redfield in 1908 H.P. Packard, J. Scualkle and H.A. Hageman secured three pairs of pheasants from Oregon. A grandson of one of the gentlemen called me several years back to fill in some of the missing parts of the history. It seems that the birds arrived late and instead of releasing them into the South Dakota winter, the birds were kept in a warm barn until spring and then let out.
L.J. Howard, who at that time was the Spink County clerk of courts went with the men to Hageman’s Grove just north of Redfield and released the birds.
Over the years the number of pheasants grew. The Game department purchased 48 of the birds and released them into privately subscribed fields near Redfield.
The first one day season took place on Oct. 30, 1919 in Spink County. Each person holding a small game license was allowed to shoot one pheasant.
Since then, the birds have come a long way. More on that later.
One particular account has this season opening on Oct. 1, 1919.
Where did he come from?
Actually, the ringneck, or Chinese ringneck, or common pheasant was imported to America from Asia. Archaeological evidence suggests that large pheasants lived in southern France some 13 million years ago.
In 1881 Judge O.N. Denny released some 100 pairs in the Willamette Valley in Oregon and that’s where the pheasant in America gained his foothold. The birds came to South Dakota in 1898.
There are some things you may know and may not about this colorful bird:
Weight: Male ring-necked pheasants weigh two to three pounds, while hens average two.
Length: Males measure 24-35 inches long with a rooster’s tail often accounting for more than 20 inches of that length. Hens are smaller with a much shorter tail.
Flight speed: 38-40 miles per hour but can reach 60.
Favorite foods: corn, seeds, and insects.
Preferred habitat: undisturbed grass.
Average nest initiation: Early May.
Average incubation start: Late May.
Length of incubation: 23 days.
Average first hatch: Mid June.
Average clutch size: 12 eggs.
Average nest success: 40-60 percent.
Average hen success: 50-70 percent.
Average rate of chick survival: 50 percent.
Major nest predators: fox, racoon, skunk.
Major adult predators: man, fox, hawks, owl.
Survival rate: mild winter, good habitat, 95 percent.
Survival rate: severe winter, good habitat, 50 percent.
Survival rate: mild winter, poor habitat, 80 percent.
Survival rate: severe winter, poor habitat, 20 percent.
The annual life of a pheasant can be broken down into four major phases (Nesting, Brood, Rearing, Foraging and Winter Survival). Pheasants live to be 2-3 years old.
One season when things were good, the season opened on a Saturday at 12 p.m. on Oct. 17. At that time, 92,465 resident and 101,922 non-residents took to the field. They harvested 1.648 million birds, a number that did not include preserve bags of around 250,000 birds.
Residents and non-residents seemed to be satisfied with that season. That year the counties with the highest reported harvests, listed from highest to lowest were Spink, Lyman, Brown, Tripp, and Beadle. What year was that?
We know that pheasants prefer to run. When startled or with a good dog on their trail, they will flush. It’s normally this wild flush that gives them the power to reach speeds up to 60 miles per hour. That, combined with a tail feather that may reach 20 inches or more in length, make them a formidable target.
That season when nearly two million birds were bagged? It was 2009, not that long ago. That figure includes the youth only, resident public land only, and game preserves seasons.
When hunting this season, keep in mind that the pheasant prefers to run, and usually will only fly when startled, or nosed up by a good dog.
Their hearing is uncanny, and when you slam the car door before entering a field, they know you’re there, and may already be headed for heavy cover, especially in late season.
They are short-distance flyers but can reach speeds up to 50 miles an hour when startled and even faster with a good wind at their backs. Be sure to give them plenty of lead.
Once they associate hunters with danger, they are quickly on their way to a safe place, like cattails and bulrushes around a slough.
In closing---Pheasants are native to Asia with their original range extending between the Black and Caspian Seas in Manchuria, Siberia, South Korea, Mainland China, and Taiwan. They like woodland, farmland, scrub, and wetlands.
Steve Nelson, a Pierre resident, is a longtime outdoor writer and photographer.
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