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Historically Speaking: Pheasant season in early Dodge City

Kathie Bell
Special to the Globe
Pheasant season is in full swing as early Dodge Citians go on a bird hunt.

The hunting season for this animal is a big deal during the fall and winter in southwest Kansas. But the bird at the center of all the hubbub didn't originate from around here.

The Ring-Necked Pheasant (Phasianus Colchicus) is not native to the North American continent.

The pheasant was first introduced from China into Oregon in 1881, eventually crossing the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains. Game officials introduced them into 84 Kansas counties in the spring of 1906. Here, the birds have flourished on the State's rich agriculture, natural habitat and climate.

However, the pheasant’s population is subject to extreme fluctuation due to changes in their natural habitats from year to year and by the winter weather and its severity.

In 1917, the first pheasant season in Kansas was short by today's standards. It ran for only two weeks from Dec. 1 to 15.

From 1921 to 1931 there were no pheasant seasons. Hunting resumed in 1932 on a limited basis. Over the decades the season gradually lengthened until 1982 when officials decided on a regular length. Hunters could bag four males a day from the second Saturday in November through January.

In 2006, they extended the season on the front end by a week keeping the same daily limit.

There is an abundance of roosters because they have multiple mates. For this reason, hunters can shoot them, while the hens are off-limits.

As with most bird species, the male is much more elaborately colored than the female. As the days get longer near the end of March, roosters begin to strut, show their feather colors and strike breeding poses. They will fight to establish dominance and compete for hens, which a rooster will mate with many during his life.

The males have spurs on each leg between the foot and knee which they will use in this competition, as well as to defend themselves from predators.

The age of the rooster can be determined by the length of these spurs. The spur of a juvenile can be nothing more than a nub, while the spur of an adult rooster may be an eighth of an inch long. Female pheasants do not have these spurs.

The hens lay eggs from mid-April into June. A single hen can produce up to 15 fertile eggs which it must incubate and brood for 24 or 25 days, and then raise as young pheasants.

In the meantime, adult roosters molt in summer, but are fully colored again by fall - just in time for hunting season.

Another thing that makes the roosters vulnerable to hunters is they often crow or cackle when they take off in-flight from the ground, where pheasants spend most of their lives. The hens are silent during take-off except for the beating of their wings.

The photograph predates the pheasant hunt in southwest Kansas. Shown are Dr. Claude McCarty, Fred Matkin and Sid Reynolds. McCarty was the first "legitimate" child born in Dodge City.

His father, Thomas, was a pioneer and one of the first medical doctors in the area.