Is there anything more frustrating while pheasant hunting than trying to hunt roosters that run instead of fly?
You’d think being born only a few months previously would make pheasants of the year dumber than the duo on the movie “Dumb and Dumber.”
Pheasants, young and old, quickly learn that to avoid becoming dinner’s main course, they need to run, not fly, to the nearest safe house.
If you’d rather celebrate than cuss, then consider revamping your pheasant strategies to stop the running rooster.
REVIEW THE NEIGHBORHOOD
Every good hunt, for big game and small, includes scouting. You need to understand how animals use their habitat.
Where do they feed? Where do they retire for sanctuary? What are their travel patterns? If you understand simple questions like those, you have a better overview for successful strategizing.
Today you can do that easier than ever with help from Google Earth. Take the next step and use a satellite program designed just for hunters like ScoutLook Weather. Not only do apps like that give you a complete weather station in the palm of your hand to prepare for a day in the field, but they also show you projected winds to help you coordinate your dog work.
That app also includes topographical overlays. Plus, you can mark great hunting locations with the Save ScoutMarX feature to help you monitor game animal activities and note patterns for future ambush plans.
Once you complete a virtual flyover, consider if the hunting area is too large. Will you be able to hunt it effectively without birds running forever with miles of cover?
This requires you to look beyond the actual hunting plot to recognize additional escape cover. Even if you get pheasants to stop running they still may flush out of range.
Don’t start the cussing just yet.
Pheasants are short flyers and they typically hopscotch to the next cover. That’s not all bad if you have access to pockets of cover ahead. In fact, it may be the best scenario.
Hunt a property with pockets of cover that you can use to push birds into. After a series of pushes the birds will hold better as they tire. That means more flushes as your hunt progresses.
More G&F articles on Upland Birds
- How to Train a Top Pheasant Dog: Expert Advice
- 7 Dove Hunting Mistakes to Avoid
- Take Your Pick: 11 Shotguns for Upland Bird Hunting
- Pheasants: Rethink Your Bird Hunting
If the property looks manageable for your hunting party, then you need to precisely identify the habitat that may stop a running rooster. Even before a bird tires it could hold tight due to the makeup of vegetation.
Certain types of cover and lack thereof will stop a rooster cold. It may be thick cover that bolsters confidence or bare cover that forces it to hold instead of exposing itself. Either works in the battle to stop the running rooster.
Open and bare land includes grazed pastures, harvested fields, tilled fields, gravel roads and expanses of water as examples. If you can push pheasants ahead with several nudges and they end up in cover that makes them think twice about making another run, they may be holding tight when you arrive.
I’ve even seen where pheasants will duck out of cover on an edge as they run, look back to identify the danger, and run back in only to be stopped farther down the field by a barrier of bareness.
A stronghold of thick cover at the end of several mediocre strips of cover has a similar effect.
Remember the tired-pheasant syndrome? Keep it in mind. Once tired pheasants reach thick cover it could cause them to stop and catch their breath in confidence. If the cover includes a snarl of vegetation that allows them to crawl under for refuge they may dig in for an extended rest stop.
In fact, some vegetation may be so thick it also impedes their ability to escape once you arrive. Thick cattails, native grass, milo and newly planted grass cover for Conservation Reserve Program acres all can impede a rooster’s ability to run, or even flush.
A good dog has a heyday in this situation as it can nose right up to a rooster as if it were planted like a game-farm bird. Get ready. Action can be fast and furious in nasty cover after you’ve pushed a bird to its physical limits.
Pheasants may not be rocket scientists, but they rank with turkeys as some of the most paranoid birds on the planet. Before you begin a hunt, make a plan.
That plan should be instigated somewhere besides the field you plan to hunt. Why? When you get to the target field you want to make as little noise as possible. Sounds such as slamming truck doors, yappy partners, barking dogs and the like puts birds on alert, and on the run.
You should consider hunting in smaller groups. A small group can deploy faster, more secretively and with less hassle.
You’ve heard of the phrase “herding cats” right? That’s what coordinating a large group of hunters turns into. Keep the group small and employ a limited amount of well-trained dogs to keep pheasants from running a marathon before you even chamber a shotshell.
If possible, circle the hunting area and drop off any blockers ahead of parking where the hunt will begin. Make sure they are ready, and barely stop the truck to get them into position without alerting waiting birds.
If they have to walk to a blocking position, have them circle the field wide or hike through areas with the least amount of chance to spook birds. It only takes one spooky bird to get the whole flock flying, and so covertness is the name of the game.
Once the blocking crew is in position, you have two alternatives: slow or fast. A slow advance works perfectly in thick cover where birds may begin to hold if tired. Zigzagging back and forth gives the dog time to roust hidden birds and for you to maximize a field’s potential without passing by hidden holdouts. On pressured public land, one missed opportunity may be your only shot for the day.
A fast pace should be considered when you begin a hunt in sparse cover, and your end game is to push birds to thicker cover and tire them at the same time.
Don’t waste time zigzagging if you spot birds exiting at the far end of a habitat strip. Keep moving forward until they find a comfort zone, which should be where you placed a blocking team. Once you reach the zone with better cover, slow down. Your blockers will pick up the escapees and your dog will discover the burrowers.
Finally, don’t be afraid to think for yourself. An outfitter friend of mine turned me on to this next method that works like a charm to stop running roosters.
Whenever he and his hunting clients would find themselves up against running roosters they’d use the truck as a blocker in addition to blaze orange hunters. Going against common sense and tossing silence out the window, they would drive the truck to the edge of cover where birds may try to make a break for it. Once there, they’d park, leaving the radio on and the volume cranked.
This outside noise serves to confuse pheasants in the field that can feel the walkers advancing, but also hear that someone is waiting where they want to escape.
Birds may hold tight, but some will want to flee from the sides. Those hunters covering the flanks should advance a few steps ahead of the main crew pushing through a field for a surprise meeting.
Running pheasants will forever cause you upland hunting nightmares, especially on public lands with lots of activity.
Ditch those running-rooster nightmares with pre-planning. Then cast them into the next remake of the movie “Dumb and Dumber” and as the main course of your next wild game meal.
BE A PEEPING TOM
Pheasants often try to flee by running or flushing to a habitat refuge ahead. Cover or lack thereof may stop them, but so can hunting pressure from the neighbors.
That’s why it is important to keep a watchful eye on what’s happening on the neighbor’s side of the fence. If pheasants experience repeated pressure on a particular property, they tend to avoid fleeing there. If it is their only escape option, they may hold better on your side of the fence.
Also, if you spot hunting activity across the fence, you may be best served by eating lunch and watching the neighbors’ hunt unfold. If they don’t have a plan, it could push a batch of birds onto the property you have permission to hunt. Let the birds land and settle while you quickly map out a plan of attack to take advantage of tired birds.
Thanks, Mr. Neighbor!