Would you conduct a big game hunt this way?
Rumble directly into your hunting area. Slam vehicle doors. Laugh and talk as you prepare gear. Scream at a dog and blast on a whistle. Clunk a tailgate shut. Yell instructions to partners. Ignore game’s daily habits. Charge through the best habitat quickly. Move on.
That describes many pheasant hunts. You’d never dream of hunting deer or wild turkeys like that. Yet an experienced rooster is as cagey and paranoid as any buck or gobbler.
A pheasant’s hearing and sight are incredibly keen. Just skin a rooster’s head sometime and inspect those huge, bulging eyes and wide, deep ear canals: He was built for survival. Add well-muscled runner’s legs and you have a bird that’s not going to sit around and let you walk up and shoot it.
It all means you need to take a sneakier, more careful approach while hunting pheasants. Your best bet for real stealth might be to hunt solo, just you and your dog. But the principles that follow also apply if you add a partner or two.
A Stealthy Start
Don’t slam doors or tailgates. The thumps and vibrations will alert every ringneck in the area and send them running. Whisper softly as you get ready and plan a strategy.
Have your gear ready beforehand. The more “lollygagging” around you do at your vehicle, the more noise you’ll make. Get hunting as quickly and quietly as possible; it doesn’t take pheasants long to figure out what’s going on.
Work with your dog before the season to ensure control. Nothing’s worse than seeing your canine erupt through the very cover you want to hunt, before you even leave the vehicle. Giving your dog a little pre-hunt run and keeping it on a check cord until you’re ready to hunt are also good ideas.
Practice low-impact dog work all summer. Teach your dog to come back in, or redirect, to a light toot on the whistle or just a soft “hup” from your voice. Whistle blasts and shouting send roosters running.
In pheasant cover, always take a slow, thorough approach. Many pheasant hunters want to cover lots of ground, attacking quickly, carelessly and without stealth, which will send birds scurrying before you get anywhere close.
A better approach is a cautious and meandering one—a strategy that gets the birds nervous but doesn’t send them sprinting, confuses them some so they hold better, and gives your dog time to work cover thoroughly.
Quarter back and forth. Zig-zag. Don’t walk a straight line. Loop back and re-work good territory again. Swing through corners and edges of cover that might hold birds. Take your time. Weave around and through habitat. Stop often to let the dog work. Wander this way and that. Check out likely tangles. Its in your best interest to keep the pheasants guessing at your whereabouts.
Finally, make plenty of pauses. Pauses make birds edgy, stop birds that are running and give your dog time to unravel scent trails the pheasants laid down earlier. If you don’t hunt with a dog, frequent pauses are even more essential for holding birds and keeping them guessing.
Know what kind of cover to hunt at different times of the day. In the morning, start near feeding areas of harvested cropfields and open meadows, working the edges between cover and food sources. As the day progresses toward afternoon, shift your attention to marshes, cattail swamps, brush and other thick cover.
During early afternoon, work grassy fields. Pheasants like to loaf here and dust their feathers as they while away some time until evening feeding. When the sun starts descending, head back to the feeding ground edges.
Don’t treat pheasants like chumps. Study them, respect them and hunt them with the effort they require and deserve. A mature rooster might weigh only 3 pounds or so, but his long-tailed, resplendent-feathered, hook-spurred glory makes for one of hunting’s finest trophies.