Here are 4 tactics to increase public land pheasant hunting success
For some, public lands are the only chance to harvest the elusive and witty cock pheasant. For others, public lands provide a nice change of pace from privately owned honey-holes or game preserves. When it comes to pheasant hunting on public land, a few preemptive steps ought to be taken. First, check the weather forecast. Research and confirm bird populations in the area. And don’t forget to add the next three tactics into your already impressive bag of tricks.
Qualifying the proper pheasant hunting fields
Pheasants are creatures of habitat. What they need is where you’ll find them: food, water, and cover from predators. It’s really that simple. Focus on areas with heavy grass cover like switch grass, or Panicum virgatum. There is the more commonly known and heavily hunted CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) fields. A little known fact is that these mixes of native grass assists in enhancing water quality as well as recharges ground water and ground water tables. Not only do these areas provide safe cover and an evening roost, they also hold plenty of bugs, seeds, vegetation, and water required to maintain a healthy wild cock population. Healthy grass cover alone does not deem a field hunt worthy, but it does lay the foundational habitat for wild cackles on the flush and the sweet smell of gun powder in the morning.
Pheasants don’t travel long distances or many miles, largely because they travel on foot. You should locate a food source (corn, milo, sorghum) adjacent to the grass cover, but adjacent can mean within a quarter mile or so. In addition, there should always be a little something to wet the beak nearby. Roosters and hunting dogs favor ponds and cattails. Ponds provide the nectar of life and cattails provide cover from predators. Who doesn’t love watching ring-necks pour out of tall cattails?
Timing creatures of habit in habitat
Now that you’ve scouted out the best-looking public grounds for pheasant hunting and drawn circles on that crinkled, ketchup-stained public hunting map, it’s time to get down to business. You must choose what cover to walk and what time of day to hunt it. There are many weather variables that can skew this method, of course. Yet overall, it’s a great rule of thumb in patterning and locating birds.
Pheasants are creatures of habit, too. Knowing that ring-necks roost in tall cover makes choosing what grounds to hunt at daybreak a no-brainer. Get into those big, full mile sections of CRP with some nearby corn or milo and hunt it hard! Since this is also where they roost in the evening, you can hunt the same sections at dusk into the end of the shooting light.
Where do pheasants go after they wake up and stretch their wings? After the sun crests the horizon, often times they sunbathe in winter wheat fields and jockey for the next hen’s love. Many know that chasing women can be exhausting and a man can get pretty hungry from all that running and denial. Around eight o’clock in the morning, give or take, it’s time to switch gears to those heavy grain and feed areas. Focus on working all types of feed until you’ve located the desired grain of the day. Focusing on feed fields mid-morning and late afternoons will guarantee a man and his dog a few more opportunities to create moments to share as campfire stories.
Hunt with hunting pressure in mind
Field management is a favorite strategy of mine. Public lands in the Midwest with “WIHA” (Walk-In Hunting Access) have designated parking or an opening in the fence for one to walk through. Don’t start your hunt at that gate. Do not do it! These birds are wild for a reason and are as resilient as they come. The previous 56 trucks and 113 dogs entered that field at the same place.
Instead, cut the field in half and make an entry over the fence. These birds are as educated as Oxford scholars and run to the middle fields whenever they hear the truck door shut and the dog box doors open. Cutting the field in half allows for a couple of single rooster freebies. They don’t expect your presence coming from the entry gate. As the first pass is completed, those birds will flush either right or left of you. At that point, what direction to turn after the first pass becomes an easy decision.
Pheasant hunting formations that work
There is a second rule of field management that also helps determine how to go about tackling a field. If it’s a solo hunt, there is really only one rule of thumb: keep the wind in the dog’s face and follow the dog. With 5 to 7 hunters, however, try walking in a “U” or horseshoe pattern instead of the straight firing line for pheasant hunting. Roosters are notorious for running like hell and sending the dogs on a mad chase. The horseshoe approach cuts down on the number of escapees. Many times, the ring-neck will run 60-70 yards straight ahead and then make a hard 90-degree turn.
How many times has an upland hunter and his hound been on a hot trail of some running rooster, only to make their way to the edge of the field without a flush? Creating a “U” formation for 5 or 7 guys with no blockers allows a group to set the edge. Yes, it closes some shooting lanes for the interior hunters, but it’s more about the success of the group.
For groups over 8, it’s all about covering much ground with little effort. Gents often want to walk too close together. It makes for great conversation, but it leads to tired dogs and less birds. Spread out 50-60 yards apart and let the dogs run the line. They will fill in the gaps and allow for some great firing squad opportunities. Save a few good ol’ boys as blockers and no bird will stand a chance.
There are 100 ways to skin a cat, train a dog, and shoot a public land rooster. This is the humble opinion of a simple man that puts his trust in his bird dogs. But focusing on proper field qualification, time of day (reciprocated with bird activity), and field management will ensure tired dogs, happy hunters, and game vests full of feathers. That’s what pheasant hunting is all about.
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.