This season might be the perfect season to hunt pheasants in Utah. Thousands of pheasants will be released on public hunting areas before the hunt opens on Nov. 2. Photo by Scott Root
From Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR)
If it's been years since you hunted pheasants, it's time to grab your gun and head afield. More than 11,000 pheasants will be released on public hunting areas during Utah's upcoming pheasant hunt.The hunt opens on Nov. 2. But you don't have to hunt that day to get in on the action — pheasants will be released throughout the hunt.
Greg Sheehan, director of the Division of Wildlife Resources, hopes the hunt will rekindle memories many have of past pheasant hunts in Utah. "This will also be a great opportunity to introduce new hunters to upland game hunting," he says. "Plenty of birds will be available to hunt."
The DWR and Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife worked together to buy the birds. The birds will be released in areas that have good pheasant habitat and good access for public hunters. "Birds will be placed on wildlife management areas, waterfowl management areas and Walk-In Access areas," says Jason Robinson, upland game coordinator for the DWR.
You can see where the birds will be released and how to get to those areas by visiting the 2013 pheasant release areas interactive map.
Thirteen of the areas are waterfowl management areas. You must use nontoxic shoot (for example, steel shot) when hunting on waterfowl management areas. Lead shot may not be used.
Birds will also be released on select Walk-In Access (WIAs) areas in Box Elder, Cache, Emery, Utah and Wayne counties.
More information about the WIAs is available at wildlife.utah.gov/walkinaccess.
Birds released throughout the hunt
Utah's general pheasant hunt runs Nov. 2–17 across most of the state. However, on state and federal land in 11 of Utah's counties, the hunt runs Nov. 2–Dec. 1. The 11 counties are Carbon, Duchesne, Emery, Grand, Juab, Millard, San Juan, Sanpete, Sevier, Tooele and Uintah.
DWR biologists, members of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and those who participated in Utah's day-old pheasant chick adoption program will release the birds. Since pheasants will be released throughout the hunt, you don't have to hunt on the opening weekend to find birds. "If you hunt after the opening weekend," Robinson says, "you should still find plenty of birds and have a great experience."
If you decide to hunt during the opening weekend, know in advance that you'll be hunting with lots of other hunters. Robinson says you can still have a good experience, though, by being courteous and respectful to others.
"Ask other hunters where they plan to hunt and try to give each other space," he says. "Also, if you have a dog, make sure to keep your dog under control. Please remember that everyone is there to have a good time."
And make sure to wear plenty of hunter orange.
"Wearing hunter orange is extremely important," he says, "especially when you're hunting in crowded conditions. You want to make sure other hunters can see you."
How to find birds
If you decide to hunt on private agricultural lands, instead of a WMA or a WIA, please remember that you must have written permission from the landowner before hunting on private land.
No matter where you're hunting in Utah, Robinson describes what perfect pheasant habitat looks like:
- The center of the area will have a field of wheat or corn that provides the birds with food. The wheat or corn field will be surrounded by stiff, stemmed grass that provides the pheasants with good nesting cover.
- Outside the stemmed grass, you'll find a strip of sparse grass with lots of forbs mixed in. (Forbs are any herb that is not grass or grass like. Forbs are an important food source for pheasant chicks.)
- On the other side of the sparse grass, you'll find thick, woody cover, or a wetland with cattails. This cover protects pheasants during the winter.
"This type of habitat provides pheasants with everything they need to eat, hide, breed and raise young," he says. "Even if an area doesn't have all of these features, it can still hold birds. But the more an area matches this description, the better chance you'll have of finding birds in it."
Pheasants are excellent at hiding. Hunting with a trained bird dog can often help you find them. "If a pheasant has cover to hide in," Robinson says, "you can be standing only a foot or two from a bird and not know it's there. A good bird dog can make a huge difference as far as finding these hidden birds."
You can still find pheasants without a dog, though. Robinson suggests the following tactics:
- Walk slowly. Take your time.
Simply walking slower, and stopping and standing still from time to time, can result in more birds flushing. "Pheasants will often hide and wait for you to walk past them," Robinson says. "Slowing your pace down, and stopping and standing still from time to time, makes birds that are close to you nervous. In many cases, they'll think you've spotted them, and they'll try to get away by flushing into the air."
- Driving and blocking.
A group of hunters is needed to execute this maneuver. One or two hunters are quietly placed at the end of a field to "block" any pheasants the remaining hunters (the drivers) push to the blockers. Then, the drivers enter the field on the opposite side from the blockers, and start walking towards the blockers.
Pheasants that are pushed by the drivers will often run to the end of the field, see the blockers and then hold tight until continued pressure from the drivers causes the birds to flush. When this happens, all of the hunters — blockers and drivers — can usually get shots.
"If you're going to try this tactic," Robinson says, "it's absolutely vital that every hunter in the group knows where the other hunters are and that each hunter wears plenty of hunter orange."
- Walking ditch banks.
This is a good strategy if you're hunting alone or with a friend.
If you're hunting with a friend, place your friend on one side of the ditch bank and you on the other. Then, walk together down the bank.
Robinson says it's important to walk to the very end of the ditch bank, fence row or whatever cover you're hunting. "Pheasants would much rather run than fly," he says. "You might be pushing a pheasant ahead of you and not even know it. But once you reach the end of the cover, the pheasant will have run out of places to hide. At that point, the bird will usually flush."
If you have questions about hunting pheasants in Utah, call the nearest Division of Wildlife Resources office or the DWR's Salt Lake City office at 801-538-4700.