Question I’ve wondered about

tomt

Member
With the droughts in many traditional Pheasant states knocking numbers way back over multiple years, there is always someone who posts on this forum about stocking to rebuild populations. I believe most people (but not all) seem to agree that stocking birds is not helpful as those pen raised ones usually don’t have the learned awareness of how to survive. But does anyone have any information on how wild Pheasant populations were originally started? Were the pheasants back then trapped wild (Asia) and released or perhaps were they “raised” birds, but in a different manner than mass produced pen birds are now? Or perhaps it was simply that 10’s of thousands of pen birds were released and a small percentage adapted? Maybe Predators were so shot out that It provided time for these birds to learn?

I’ve read stories of railroad boxcars full of pheasants being released with locals waiting, guns ready. I’m not a fan of shooting raised birds ( so please don’t hijack this thread with rehashing that argument), I just have always wondered if there is any specific knowledge left about how populations were started back 100 +/- years ago. There has to be a biological explanation out there somewhere. It obviously happened all over the country, and where the habitat existed, they took hold…… somehow…
 

NDPheasant

Well-known member
One of my very best hunting buddies recently moved to Oregon from North Dakota. He shared that currently, Oregon has little to offer for Pheasant hunting. He threw me a little nugget though. Oregon was actually the original area for the Chinese Ringneck Pheasant transplant in the 1880s.
 

remy3424

Well-known member
A year or 2 ago the PF journal had a nice article about the introduction of pheasants here.
 

Dakotazeb

Well-known member
Back in the 80's and 90's when I was quite involved with Pheasants Forever here in South Dakota they had some statistics on pen raised released pheasants. They had a very low survival rate and PF did not support releasing pheasants as a method to increase the population in an area. They were all about habitat. Unless you have habitat you won't have any birds.
 

Chestle

Well-known member
I've posted this before:

"A. E. Cooper and E. L. Ebbert bought several pairs of pheasants from a Pennsylvania game farm in 1908 and introduced them in wooded sections of their farms south of Doland. Those pheasants fell victim to heavy snow that winter. Cooper and Ebbert’s efforts to release pheasants the next year met with success."

https://www.sdhsf.org/news_events/m...er-2013-history-of-pheasants-in-south-dakota-

Lots of game bird farm pheasants were stocked in most pheasant states to initially establish huntable populations.

It worked then because the habitat of the early 1900s was vastly different from the (minimal) suitable habitat of today.

Which is why it won't work now. Habitat.
 

Weimdogman

Well-known member
As for the 1st pheasants being stocked and surviving vs pen raised birds now , one must keep in mind the changes to the praries.

Prior to the depression South Dakota was almost devoid of trees. Prarie grasses and some row crops along with cattle pastures were the norm. Most tree belts were planted after the 30's as a result of the dust bowl and the govt aid in the form of jobs for out of work Americans. Farming practices were very inefficient and left plenty of easy food for fattening birds up for the winter. Winter cover was great and also added to the birds survival rates.
 

Weimdogman

Well-known member
Another thing about released birds , most often stocked birds are released in mass in a specific area. If predators key in on those areas with dumb birds it is no wonder the low survival rates. Stocked birds are also mostly roosters which hunters are thrilled to harvest.

I think the best way to stock pheasants is with hens early enough in the spring for them to hopefully nest. Not too many in a area as to be a predator magnet.

Hens that have been layed out in preserves are cheap but I doubt are effective. I can't say if they will nest like wild birds until eggs hatch. Think renest like we are told wild birds do.
 

Fox Walker

New member
I know I am in the minority, but I think supplementing wild populations with released birds may have some positive impact on overall bird numbers.
Keep in mind, I do agree with the majority of the contributors that released birds offer very "little bang for your buck."

Hypothetical examples for potential benefits of released birds:

#1. An excessively wet spring greatly reduces nesting success. Early release of juveniles could take advantage of abundant insect crop that follows wet springs and lead to high numbers of birds in the fall.

#2. Naïve pen raised birds released later in the season could take some of the pressure off the wily older roosters that may have otherwise run out of energy or luck thereby helping those older birds survive to another season.

#3. The few, likely less than one percent of the released birds that make it to the following spring may increase genetic diversity and improve the heartiness of the local pheasant population.

All in all I am sure the best investments for improving bird numbers is habitat and predator control.

I would be willing to wager that pheasant numbers in South Dakota would improve if every hunter who wanted to purchase a pheasant license in the fall had to turn in a dozen racoon, skunk, coyote, fox, etc. hides the prior spring!
 

Goosemaster

Well-known member
Back in the 80's and 90's when I was quite involved with Pheasants Forever here in South Dakota they had some statistics on pen raised released pheasants. They had a very low survival rate and PF did not support releasing pheasants as a method to increase the population in an area. They were all about habitat. Unless you have habitat you won't have any birds.
Habitat and a good water situation. It's very unfortunate that we have to argue pen raised, vs. wild.
 

Goosemaster

Well-known member
With the droughts in many traditional Pheasant states knocking numbers way back over multiple years, there is always someone who posts on this forum about stocking to rebuild populations. I believe most people (but not all) seem to agree that stocking birds is not helpful as those pen raised ones usually don’t have the learned awareness of how to survive. But does anyone have any information on how wild Pheasant populations were originally started? Were the pheasants back then trapped wild (Asia) and released or perhaps were they “raised” birds, but in a different manner than mass produced pen birds are now? Or perhaps it was simply that 10’s of thousands of pen birds were released and a small percentage adapted? Maybe Predators were so shot out that It provided time for these birds to learn?

I’ve read stories of railroad boxcars full of pheasants being released with locals waiting, guns ready. I’m not a fan of shooting raised birds ( so please don’t hijack this thread with rehashing that argument), I just have always wondered if there is any specific knowledge left about how populations were started back 100 +/- years ago. There has to be a biological explanation out there somewhere. It obviously happened all over the country, and where the habitat existed, they took hold…… somehow…
I'm totally against pen raised birds.
With the droughts in many traditional Pheasant states knocking numbers way back over multiple years, there is always someone who posts on this forum about stocking to rebuild populations. I believe most people (but not all) seem to agree that stocking birds is not helpful as those pen raised ones usually don’t have the learned awareness of how to survive. But does anyone have any information on how wild Pheasant populations were originally started? Were the pheasants back then trapped wild (Asia) and released or perhaps were they “raised” birds, but in a different manner than mass produced pen birds are now? Or perhaps it was simply that 10’s of thousands of pen birds were released and a small percentage adapted? Maybe Predators were so shot out that It provided time for these birds to learn?

I’ve read stories of railroad boxcars full of pheasants being released with locals waiting, guns ready. I’m not a fan of shooting raised birds ( so please don’t hijack this thread with rehashing that argument), I just have always wondered if there is any specific knowledge left about how populations were started back 100 +/- years ago. There has to be a biological explanation out there somewhere. It obviously happened all over the country, and where the habitat existed, they took hold…… somehow…I'm totally against pen raised birds!
 

Goosemaster

Well-known member
As for the 1st pheasants being stocked and surviving vs pen raised birds now , one must keep in mind the changes to the praries.

Prior to the depression South Dakota was almost devoid of trees. Prarie grasses and some row crops along with cattle pastures were the norm. Most tree belts were planted after the 30's as a result of the dust bowl and the govt aid in the form of jobs for out of work Americans. Farming practices were very inefficient and left plenty of easy food for fattening birds up for the winter. Winter cover was great and also added to the birds survival rates.
That's a good point.
 

Chestle

Well-known member
Hens that have been layed out in preserves are cheap but I doubt are effective. I can't say if they will nest like wild birds until eggs hatch. Think renest like we are told wild birds do.
Had a SD friend that bought 300 layed out hens at end of season; I think $3 each. Released them throughout a large, thick cattail slough right by his house. He did predator control as much as possible.

Told me he thought maybe 20-30 hens were still alive by spring mating and he didn't think many of them nested as he didn't see many chicks.
 

dustin mudd

Active member
Weim and chestie are spot on with their comments.
A couple unmentioned adds, sloughs were farmed around, as older farm equipment could not overcome bogs.
No laser leveling of fields to “ clean “ weedy area.
We don’t know the total consequences of pesticides or herbicide use so prevalent today.
Lastly 3 or so generations ago our grandparents “ managed “ avian predators. Today even raven and magpie are a source of predation, along with hawks, falcon, eagle , and owls
 

PeteRevvv

Active member
3 pairs released in 1908 and 48 pairs in 1911 (shipped in from Grant's Pass, OR farm) near Redfield around 44.92375607583157, -98.49543882390094 as near as it has been described to me. I stay in Ashton about 5 miles north of there and old timers said they were absolutes about predator control, especially barn cats that strayed off the farm and hawks/owls. Trapping was heavy too since this area is right on the James River. These early pairs benefitted from the mild winters that led to the dustbowl years but they always had water from the river and lot's of cattail sloughs to over-winter in. The locals did more unofficial releases over the years but they used the method of releasing chicks on existing nests which is still done if there are a couple bad winters or hatches to get them restarted.

Not so many sloughs any more since since ethanol made it profitable to put corn on all marginal acres. You can sort of hunt the spot of the original release if you get a hold of Dennis at Dakota Guide Service in Mellette who has hunting access. I say "sort of" since they pretty much obliterated the spot with an ethanol plant, which is a little ironic.

So all you need is a decade of mild winters, end of government farm subsidies and a widespread cultural acceptance of humans first, predators second and you too can reproduce it in your state.
 

AtTheMurph

Active member
3 pairs released in 1908 and 48 pairs in 1911 (shipped in from Grant's Pass, OR farm) near Redfield around 44.92375607583157, -98.49543882390094 as near as it has been described to me. I stay in Ashton about 5 miles north of there and old timers said they were absolutes about predator control, especially barn cats that strayed off the farm and hawks/owls. Trapping was heavy too since this area is right on the James River. These early pairs benefitted from the mild winters that led to the dustbowl years but they always had water from the river and lot's of cattail sloughs to over-winter in. The locals did more unofficial releases over the years but they used the method of releasing chicks on existing nests which is still done if there are a couple bad winters or hatches to get them restarted.

Not so many sloughs any more since since ethanol made it profitable to put corn on all marginal acres. You can sort of hunt the spot of the original release if you get a hold of Dennis at Dakota Guide Service in Mellette who has hunting access. I say "sort of" since they pretty much obliterated the spot with an ethanol plant, which is a little ironic.

So all you need is a decade of mild winters, end of government farm subsidies and a widespread cultural acceptance of humans first, predators second and you too can reproduce it in your state.
Coldest winters in recorded history in SD happened in the 1930s. 1936 was coldest ever.
Hot summers and cold winters.
 

PeteRevvv

Active member
They were already at an estimated 1 million birds by 1924 so they had a widespread, reproducing population. They had a peak at 12 million in 1935/36 and then down to 3 million in 37 so there must have been one large winterkill in that record cold. The numbers reached their peak of 16 million in 1945, ten years before Soil Bank programs began. 1940-44 were very wet years and lots of idle acres due to so many farm workers away for the war. Fields went to new weeds and sloughs everywhere with little hunting pressure.

The average CRP acres was 1.7 million in the 90s which matches exactly with the peak Soil Bank acres in the early 60s. However bird numbers were 4-5 million through CRP until the mild winters in 2008 when they hit 12 million again. There's lots of journalist and people with faith in the government, including the journalist and politicians that started Pheasants Forever that will tell you CRP is what you need for restarting bird numbers but the numbers don't ever match up either during Soil Bank or CRP. But even the PF website estimates increasing bird numbers are 60-80% mild winters, 20-40% habitat.

So the weather is the biggest factor to bird number but with that out of your control, you can only have an effect on slough habitat and predator control. You can have a long term bump in the local population with turning out pen-raised chicks on active nests which is how the old timers got their numbers to stick in SD in small areas to start. But the skills to watch for spring nesting conditions and time your chick hatch to match is a time and labor intensive skillset that is rarely found today. The "wild genetics" are a myth- chicks learn natural predator evasion from the hen, no matter if they hatch on the nest or in an incubator. You see a variation of this every year when wild birds are dumb flushers on the opening day but savvy runners by about Monday. They learn fast if they have opportunity to learn from experience. Birds pen-raised to maturity just never get natural predator training before it's too late and/or winter gets them like it does for most birds.
 
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