For upland bird hunters, the pheasant opener (Saturday, October 11th) is like a festive holiday. Every October a sea of orange-clad hunters descend on the fields and farms of Oregon to chase the wily Chinese ring-necked pheasant. We come from around the state and elsewhere to share this hunt. Whoa, not so fast! That is the way it used to be here in Oregon. But things have definitely gone downhill if you are a pheasant hunter in Oregon. We still enjoy the opening day and get a chance to chase those pheasant tails but pheasant populations have significantly declined over the decades.
Pheasants were first successfully introduced to the United States right here in Oregon in the Willamette Valley in 1881 by Judge Owen Denny. That introduced population thrived and with protection, Oregon held its first pheasant season eleven years later when 50,000 pheasants were harvested. Birds were introduced into 40 other states and populations reached all-time highs in the mid-1900s. But a combination of factors has reduced populations across much of the current pheasant range. Changing agricultural practices, habitat destruction, development, and urban/suburban encroachment have taken its toll on pheasant numbers. Without major changes, these factors will continue to impact pheasants in years to come. Latest harvest statistics for Oregon showed less than 20,000 pheasants were harvested last year. The outlook for this season shows a decline in pheasant numbers with no identified reason. So it does look like a bleak season for us pheasant hunters here in Oregon.