Phlushin' Pheasants

There's nothing wrong with walking fields with your dog all day. But if you want to put a pheasant in the game bag, you'll need a better plan.

A loud explosion of colors and feathers resulted in a moment of shock and several seconds of indecision.

To ramp up your hunting-success rates, you have to learn where to look for pheasants.

"Rooster!" someone yelled.

Several shotguns pointed skyward and followed the large bird. All gunners shot either above or below it, to the right or to the left.

The pheasant sailed into a brush-covered draw a half-mile away.

Ringneck pheasants, or Phasianus colchicus, are wily, worthy game birds. They can make a group of seasoned hunters look foolish with their noisy flush and quick wingbeats that carry them to safety.

But pheasant hunters can give themselves a big advantage if they understand these birds and how they spend their day.

KNOW THEIR HABITS, INCREASE SUCCESS
Wild pheasants are creatures of habit, so it stands to reason that their movements can be predicted.

Of course, weather plays a big part.

Shortly after daylight, pheasants will fly or walk from roosting cover and head to morning feeding areas. They will feed for a couple of hours and then either move back to roosting cover or head for loafing cover -- often hedgerows, fence lines or the grassy edges of a field.

Pheasants will feed for an hour or so before dark, then head back to their roosting cover for the night. It's quite surprising how small an area this may be.

During times of extreme cold or a heavy snow, pheasants may hold tighter in dense cover. Even heavy dew can keep them on the ground.

After the weather warms, pheasants may stay out most of the day to feed. In areas of hunting pressure, the birds learn to stay in the dense cover and flush wild ahead of approaching hunters.

An old rule of thumb says that 90 percent of the fish are found in 10 percent of the water, and the same can be said for pheasants. To ramp up your hunting-success rates, you have to learn where to look for these birds.

Not all of the ideal places will be found in your hunting area, but looking for the best cover will give you a good start. (Continued)

In wet areas, pheasants love to hide in cattail marshes near croplands. Corn rates high on their list, as do soybeans, wheat, milo and other small-grain plants.

Other areas popular with ringnecks are old abandoned farmsteads, grassy fringe areas, grassy waterways, CRP land, brushy fence lines, fences in general, irrigation ditches, and weedy areas that provide cover.

Many an old rooster will take his cover in the high grass, weeds, and brush surrounding a frozen stock pond or water tank. These bank areas help break the wind and many times, act as places where snow won't drift. Walking the edges will create a flush and put a pheasant in your bag.

Just be careful that you don't find thin ice while retrieving your bird. The same goes for your dog.

However, understanding these colorful birds is only part of your formula for success. Like deer hunting, pre-hunt preparation is crucial.

Do your own scouting. Start by calling the state fish and game department. Check with their upland biologist as to where and when to hunt. Drive the area you plan to hunt. Look for the proper habitat and birds in the fields or along rights of way.

If you find a likely spot and it's private, make it a point to stop at several farmsteads in the area and meet the farmers.

If you hunt with a dog, let them know that. Be pleasant. Don't be discouraged if the farmer says no.

At the risk of wearing out your welcome, visit a while longer even if he does say no. Make small talk. Ask about his land. Let him sense that you are a responsible hunter. If you stay polite and don't rush off, the farmer may change his mind

Try hunkering. That's when you and the landowner both kneel down and start drawing maps and outlines in the dirt. Once the landowner starts drawing maps of his property in the dust, you are almost home. Chances are that if you get this far, permission to hunt will soon follow.

YOUR DOG
Second only to your gun, your dog is an important tool in the field. Think of your pup as an athlete. You cannot suddenly take a dog out hunting after he's been in the kennel or yard during the off-season. Exercise him daily, and give the dog plenty of water.

Have your vet give pup a check up in the off-season. Make sure all his shots are up-to-date.

If you plan on hunting in ice and snow, fit your dog with a good set of boots. This will help him hunt on frozen ground and prevent frostbite.

I use vet wrap on pup's legs, then the boots. And then I tape the boots to the vet wrap. The tape doesn't pull off hair when removed and also avoids lost boots.

If there are rattlesnakes where you hunt, ask your vet about the new shots that reduce the effects of a snakebite.

In addition to exercising your dog, always include some training as you go along. Re-enforce "Here," and "Whoa" commands. But don't spend the whole time on training. Keep it fun for both you and the dog.

If your pup can find and point at wild birds in the exercise field, all the better. Before the season opener, some hunters book a day or two at a shooting resort and work their dogs on pen birds. Others find that trapped and planted pigeons will give their dogs an edge.

One of the most common mistakes that hunters make is not paying attention to the wind and making the dog hunt backward. For best scenting, hunt and run your pup with the wind in your face. This will help the dog find the birds and prevent those flushes from behind you.

If you'll be hunting large row-crop fields, a swift pace will make even an old pheasant nervous and take to the air. The key is to slow down, with complete stops quite often.

Here again, a good dog will prevent many walk-bys and a

ssist with the cripples. It's a rare hunter who can run down a broken-wing pheasant on a plowed field.

During periods of bad weather, double-check brushy draws, waterways and heavy cover like overgrown hillsides. Some hunters should surround the area to spot for obvious escape routes.

Then one or two of you should walk slowly down the draw with at least one dog, to work all the heavy cover and hiding places. Let your dog root out any birds hugging the cover.

Hunting pheasants is a worthwhile and enjoyable upland hunt. Now that you know where pheasants live, eat and spend their days, all you'll need to do is hit these one of these fast-flying game birds.

Easy, huh? Well, maybe not. But it sure beats a day in the office!

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