Pheasant Hunting Early in the Season
It’s that time of year when I really wish I didn’t have a job. Well, OK, I wish I didn’t have to work at all, but right now there is so much hunting going on or coming up shortly. Often times I find myself debating what I want to go hunting for, that is why last week I spent a few days really trying to plan out my fall and winter hunting trips, leaving some time open for some fall fly fishing as well. Luckily for me I can be on a good trout river and fly fishing in less than 30 minutes, so that doesn’t take as much planning as a bird, elk, or deer hunt. The pheasant season in Colorado opens on November 9th, and I think that is going to be my first hunt after my deer hunt at the end of this month. So tonight I want to give some tips on pheasant hunting early in the season.
If you have been reading my articles for very long you probably know the first thing I am going to say; you need to scout the area you plan to hunt. This is true with any type of hunting, and I am a firm believer in the results that scouting provides. When scouting for pheasants you can see where the birds are without hunters around, and it will reveal locations to keep an eye on early in the mornings and late in the afternoons. Scouting for pheasants will also show you the cover types to be aware of once hunting opens. Even if it is a place you hunt year after year, vegetation can change, or even the landscape can be altered, as we witnessed here in Colorado after the flooding on the plains last month. Another benefit of scouting is that it gets you outdoors in the environment you will hunt, which helps your physical conditioning and builds the anticipation of the hunt.
Whether you are scouting or hunting, look and listen for signs of pheasants, such as tracks or crowing. Look for the birds crossing roads from
roosting areas to feeding areas early and late in the day. Also keep in mind that pheasants need water just like any other animal, and they also need small pebbles of gravel, which they will ingest prior to feeding, this helps them break up and digest their food. Late in the evening, pheasants will come out and feed before bedding down. You can often see them at dusk, which is a good time to scout for pheasants. When scouting or hunting a new pheasant hunting area, look for birds where corn is growing. Corn attracts pheasants for not only the corn itself, but also for the shade and cover it provides, Pheasants also like cattails and marshy areas, especially during mid-day.
Having a good dog will vastly improve your pheasant hunting success, and by a “good dog” I don’t mean one like my Jack Russel Terrier, Buddy, who was bread to chase foxes out of their holes. Unfortunately I don’t hunt foxes, so Buddy isn’t much use to me as a hunting dog, but he is a good friend. In my life I have had two really good bird dogs; an English Springer Spaniel named Duke, and a Brittany Spaniel named Woody, they were both great companions and hunting dogs as well. Labradors and pointers are also good dogs for pheasant hunting, as well as other upland birds. A dog will not only help you find the birds, but they can also track down injured or dead birds and bring them back to you, which is invaluable, especially if you hunt alone. If you do get a bird dog, be sure to start training it early in its life so that it will learn the discipline required to be a good bird dog. An undisciplined hunting dog is worse than no dog at all, and I will be writing more tips on dog training in later posts as I did last year.
If you don’t have a dog, don’t give up hope. I hunt pheasants by myself without a dog quite often, and I do pretty well, it just takes a little extra effort. For example, when hunting a public area I don’t go right into the field where everyone else does when they park in the parking area. Even if I am the only one there in the darkness before sunrise, I will skirt around the hunting area and come into the habitat from a different entry point. You also have to be the dog at times and be willing to go into the thick cover and marshy areas to kick up a bird. Sometimes you will get a bird off the ground but have no shot because of the dense cover, but to me that is equally as exciting as shooting a pheasant.
If you have other hunters with you but no dog, you can place hunters in strategic areas, and then drive the birds towards them. An important thing to remember about pheasants is they will run on the ground as far as they can to escape a predator, and when they run out of cover, they will fly. If you are hunting in an area with hills or ridges, know that pheasants like to run uphill away from pressure, and will then take flight where the cover ends, so position your shooters at the top of hills and ridges. Don’t try to drive pheasants downhill as they will take flight long before the cover ends, and your shooters will not get a clean shot at them. Keep these things in mind when you place your shooters in a pheasant drive.
Early in the season if it is hot and dry, pheasants will be close to water sources, whether that be natural sources such as streams and ponds, or man-made, such as cattle tanks or pivot sprinklers and facets. The first really cold spell of the year can produce some of the best pheasant hunting of the season. The advantage of cold, wet weather is it’s easier on the dogs, and it makes the scenting conditions better for the dogs. Pheasants can also be easy to track on muddy or snow-covered ground. Keep an eye on the weather forecasts early in the season, and don’t miss hunting that first stint of bad weather.
As far as guns and ammunition, a 20, 16, or 12 gauge shotgun all will do the job just fine. An advantage of a double barrel gun, either a side-by-side or an over-and-under, is that you can have two chokes in your barrels; an improved cylinder for your first shot, and a modified choke for your second shot, giving you a better chance at getting a bird that is farther away on your second shot. For shells I recommend a size 4 shot size; pheasants are big birds and you need good penetration to bring one down. If you use anything lighter, such as a size 6 or 7, you will likely only wound the bird, and not only lose the bird, but it will likely die from its wounds hours later when you are long gone.
Which leads to my last point about pheasant hunting, and like I said earlier, if you read my articles, you probably know what I am going to say. First of all, be safe. It is very easy to get so excited when a pheasant flushes that you forget about the dog 20 yards in front of you, or the other hunter 30 yards to your right, or the farm house that will get peppered with your shot. Always be sure of your shot and your projectile’s trajectory, that applies to any type of hunting. Secondly, be respectful of the animal. Don’t take a shot at a bird that is so far away you are hoping you might be able to kill it. Know your limitations, and exhibit ethical behavior, you owe that to the animal you are hunting.
After writing this article tonight, I want to go hunt some birds! It got me excited about hearing the flushing of the wings of an air-borne rooster, or watching the dogs work a field. It won’t be long before I will be out in the field enoying the landscape of pheasant country, experiencing the hunt, and putting some dinner on the table.