Hunting pheasants can be a challenge to anyone, but here are 3 ways to help improve the odds
So there you are. You’ve got your brand new Danner boots lightly broken in and the newest Filson upland vest loaded with shells. You’ve broken down, cleaned and reassembled your favorite field gun more times than it needs to be. And at your heel is an eager bird dog whining in anticipation.
What’s left to do but put those thousands of dollars to use, load the truck, and hit the brush for some well deserved R&R? Here are three things you need to know about hunting pheasants with a dog.
A conditioned dog not only works longer but scents better
The first aspect we need to discuss is all the tasks before the season, like conditioning and achievements. Hunting pheasants isn’t exactly walking grounds for bobwhite. You had better be ready for a challenge. Let’s start with the most important aspect of the hunt: the dog. If you want your companion to be in tip-top shape, you better invest the time and energy into forming some sort of off-season conditioning program. You’d be doing your mate a disservice if you haven’t prepared them for hunting in the likes of thick CRP, heavy brush, tumbleweed, corn, milo, and sorghum fields. The more your dog is breathing through his nose, the more chance he’ll have of picking up the scent. And a bird dog with a scent steadied on the “birdie” makes for a steadied hunter ready for a clean shot.
Consider it like sweat equity that pays for your dog’s health insurance plan. Dogs are like athletes and they need to be in shape—especially if they are putting on the heavy miles from a day chasing roosters. As an endurance athlete, you’ve got to have stamina and your muscles, tendons, joints and ligaments need to have a great range of motion. An off-season training program is the best thing a handler can do to avoid a mid season hunting injury. But what about the handler? Although they are also going to be tested physically, it’s a lot harder to tell a human to get on a training program. Approach the CRP in whatever shape you deem fit for an all day hunt. That’s right folks, if you’re hunting public lands and your primary quarry is pheasant roosters, be prepared for an all day hunt.
Which brings us to the second aspect: mental fortitude. A countless number of beginners and rookie upland hunters are deterred when they learn that the real “king” of game birds is not going to present an easy opportunity at harvest. In any given day chasing rooster, a hunter can expect to see 20 to 50 birds flush 50 to 100 yards from him. For no apparent reason. Or how about when the dog goes on point 15 times in a 25-yard walk, because the birds are giving the hound the “Ol’ Rooster Shuffle?” and then to hear the cock cackle on the flush 25 yards behind you.
It’s a mental chess match with these birds that, more often than not, the rooster wins. Be ready for the dogs to stop and lock up when the hens hold tight. That’s how the roosters buy enough time to slip out on foot from the the side of the field! Prep your dog for the physical job and prep your mind for the chess game of a lifetime.
Understand pheasant habitat
Once prepared in body and mind, it’s time to hit the dirt roads and start X’ing off land parcels in the public land access atlas. Field qualification and selection should always be first priority. There is nothing more frustrating for a novice upland hunter than walking fields all day without busting a single bird from shooting distance. What makes a worthy field, you might ask? Let’s try and identify pheasant habitat with three main ingredients—literally.
First, we must identify a food source. Preferably it should be cut, but standing corn, milo, and sorghum are all great food sources for cock pheasant. If you can’t walk the field directly, find a street or field to walk nearby. When walking, pay attention to the amount of grasshoppers you see around. The hopper is a delicacy among all game birds. If you find hoppers, be ready to take the gun off safety.
The second is water. Water is the nectar of life for all humans and all animals and, yes, all birds. Ponds, creeks, lakes, and pockets of field water are hot spots for bird habitation.
The third ingredient is the actual habitat of the grounds and the quality of grass. You’ll often find CRP grass in the midwest, a popular mix of native grasses. Heavy grass cover is one of the things that allows these birds to be so elusive. It’s imperative they have cover to hide from all of mother nature’s predators—including your dog and two or three rounds of 5 or 6 shot.
Field management and how you approach your hunting grounds
The third and final aspect of hunting pheasants with a dog is field management. There are a good number of awesome tricks out there to outsmart rooster, but let’s focus on the obvious stuff: field management and walking strategies. If you have a dog, your job is to give him the best opportunity to catch scent until he tracks the bird to point and flush. Use the wind as your guiding compass in order to ensure the largest scent cones. Walk with the wind in your face. If you’re driving by a field you think is a worthy candidate, drive to the windy side of the field. Then drop the tailgate and give ’em hell.
Now that the wind is in your favor, let’s march the edge of the field. Pheasant love to hang around field edges or in tree rows. These rows don’t just provide protection from predators, but offer shelter from high winds and other adverse weather conditions, too. No matter the size, after you’ve walked the edges of the field, make one last pass through the middle—it really works.
There are a few other land quirks you’ll want to pay attention to along your journey that can provide a few extra opportunities at harvesting a bird. Look for field “bowls.” These bowls always hold birds down in them, keeping them out of the whipping wind of the western prairies. Much like the bowls, look for nice deep ditches. Stereotypes are made for a reason and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand the nickname “Ditch Parrot.”
Don’t forget to have a loose trigger finger. Depending on who you’re talking to, accuracy and the ratio of shells shot to harvest may or may not matter. You can’t catch fish if your line isn’t in the water and you can’t drop pheasant out of the sky if your lead isn’t flying; shoot safe and shoot often. Hunt hard, hunt safe, and fetch feathers.
Anthony Ferro is a Kansas native chasing his dream via the uplands. Anthony wasn’t born into a hunting family, but by God’s grand design he was destined to walk among the wild things. With passion as his source of fuel, he has proceeded in chasing birds by living in 5 cities and 3 different states over the past 8 years. This is how Fetching Feathers was born, it became that place where passion and tradition collide, where judgment and bias do not exist. The traditional elements of an outdoor lifestyle are married with a modern approach. Born from the love of the pure pursuit of all things feathered and inspired by the dance with the spurred quarry, Fetching Feathers is an ever-growing line of essentials and clothing the is sure to resonate with the modern outdoor enthusiasts. With his dogs at the heart of the journey, the emotions are as pure as they come.