Illinois Pheasant History

History of Pheasants in North America

Pheasants were first introduced into North America from Asia in 1733. New York was the first state pheasants were released, and later in 1790, they were introduced to New Jersey and New Hampshire.  However, it wasn’t until 1881 when thirty ringneck pheasants were shipped to Judge O. N. Denny that pheasants really got their start in the United States.  Judge O. N. Denny released the twenty-six pheasants that survived the journey from China, on his Willamette Valley ranch in Oregon.  Since then, pheasants have been raised and released by landowners and government agencies across the country.

History of Pheasants in Illinois

Illinois Ringneck Pheasant In 1890, Illinois had its first successful liberation of a pair of pheasants, near Macomb, Illinois (about 85 miles from Heartland Lodge).  This pair of pheasants mated and raised a clutch of birds that were spotted later that year. This was eight years before pheasants were first released in South Dakota.  Illinois became the first state in the nation to open a state-operated game farm in 1904. Eggs and chicks were distributed to landowners across the state hoping the population would thrive.  By 1929, Illinois had stocked 36,723 pheasants throughout the state. The population peaked with at least 160 birds per square mile in North and Central Illinois.  Currently 300,000+ pheasants are liberated each year in the state of Illinois.

History of Pheasants at Heartland Lodge

Heartland Lodge is located close to the place were pheasants were first introduced into the state of Illinois. In 1992, before the Lodge was built, Heartland’s owner, Gary Harpole, started working with the IDNR to liberate pheasants into the wild in the fields around were the Lodge is currently located. 1995 initiated an intense habitat improvement program. Working closely with biologists from the IDNR, Heartland converted its CRP fields from fescue to native prairie grasses, providing better cover for all upland birds and other wildlife. With the introduction of more and better food plots, pheasants have thrived in the areas surrounding Heartland Lodge ever since. Spring is filled with the cackling of rooster pheasants looking to mate. Clutches of baby pheasants can be seen throughout the spring and summer months.  Mature birds are often seen along the roadsides during the summer and fall months.

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