Ring-necked pheasants were introduced to the United States from China in the 1880s and have become one of the nation’s most popular game birds. Unlike many species not native to an area, pheasants have few negative impacts on native wildlife. Pheasants have been able to thrive in agricultural areas where some native species, such as prairie chickens, have not. Early agricultural practices including the planting of small grain crops, large native grass hayfields, and weedy crop fields provided excellent nesting and brood-rearing habitat for the birds. Intensification of agriculture and the loss of Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP, acres throughout the Midwest have led to a decrease in pheasant habitat across their established range.
Pheasant hunting requires little equipment and is a great way to spend time outdoors with family and friends. Well-trained bird dogs are an asset for hunting large, grassy fields, but a few hunters walking side-by-side across a field can also experience the explosive flush of a pheasant.
To bolster populations, wild pheasants from existing populations in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota were released from 1987-2000. A few areas, mainly in northern Missouri, continue to hold steady populations of birds. Pheasant harvest in Missouri peaked in 1990 with 24,479 hunters harvesting nearly 90,000 birds. In the 2016–2017 season, 7,433 hunters took just over 22,431 birds.
Landowners in Missouri’s pheasant range can help populations by providing ample nesting and brood-rearing habitat. Native warm-season grass mixes and brome fields tend to provide good nesting opportunities, and as with bobwhite quail, diverse patches of mixed grasses, and forbs attract hundreds of insect species that pheasant chicks must have to fuel their rapid growth.
Hunters may take pheasants statewide. This change was made 3 years ago because pheasants are already geographically limited in the state. And because harvest is restricted to male birds only, it does not impact the population. A hunting vest (preferably orange), shotgun, generally a 12 gauge, loaded with #5 or #6 shot, a comfortable pair of hunting boots, and a good dog is needed for an enjoyable day of pheasant hunting. Most hunters use a more constricted shot pattern for pheasant hunting than they do for quail. A modified or full choke is recommended.
Pheasants are most abundant in northwest Missouri and portions of northeast Missouri. Conservation areas with good populations of pheasants are few. For more detailed information on where to find pheasants, call the Department’s Northwest or Northeast Regional Office. As always, be sure to obtain landowner permission prior to hunting private land.
Hunting into the wind with close working dogs while being as quiet as possible helps to keep birds from becoming nervous and flushing wild or running. This is especially important after the first week or two of the season.
Download our Small Game Hunting Prospects to learn about the natural history, management, and hunting other small game.