November 16, 2018
By Stephen D. Carpenteri
There are two problems inherent in pheasant hunting: the birds’ preference for vast, open country and their penchant for running rather than flying. Standing roadside and staring at a 600-acre Conservation Reserve Program field, most pheasant hunters can’t imagine where to start looking for their limit of birds.
The most common technique is to walk, walk, walk for hours, desperately hoping to bump into a bird by sheer luck. Two or three such hunts are about all most sportsmen can stand; the next invitation to “go pheasant hunting” is almost always graciously, but firmly, declined.
STRATEGIES FOR SMALL FIELDS
Fall pheasants are secretive, reclusive birds, moving about only to feed. They’ll go only as far as necessary to fill their crops, and then they will spend the rest of the day loafing before topping off their crops prior to roosting. Throughout the daytime period pheasants prefer to stick close to thick growth, using native cover and topography to mask their movements. There can be a half-dozen birds in an acre-sized patch of weeds, briars and saplings, but you won’t see them till you step on them.
Two-man drives are especially effective in small plots. One method is for one hunter to walk one edge of the field while the other hunter walks the opposite border. When the hunters reach the end of the field, they move five yards closer to the center of the field and walk back to the starting point, continuing this process until the entire field has been covered.
While walking each hunter should pause frequently, which can cause anxious birds to flush prematurely, and he should kick every bit of thick vegetation he passes, no matter how small. A big cock pheasant can hide in a mere handful of grass, and most birds will hunker down or run before opting to fly. If it looks like it could disguise a sitting bird, give it a kick. Sooner or later you will hit the jackpot.
Another technique is for one hunter to stand at the upwind end of the field while the other walks back and forth in a zigzag pattern. Most pheasants will flush into the wind, giving the blocker an easy, wide-open shot.
Still another excellent small-plot tactic is for one hunter to play the role of the dog, while the other guards the most likely escape route. This strategy is especially effective when hunting wooded patches between open fields, wetland cover, isolated brush “islands” or long hedgerows. In most cases the birds will run rather than fly ahead of the “dog,” but when the cover runs out they’ll flush, sometimes four or five at a time.
True sportsmen will take turns being the dog, so both hunters can get some shooting in, but if your partner is slow to catch on, by all means let him continue flushing birds for you. It won’t take long before he sees what’s going on and begins to complain!
There is nothing more daunting for a dog-less pheasant hunter than to be standing on the edge of a 640-acre farm field where everything looks the same and the horizons go on forever. Where does one start looking for pheasants in a vast maze of cut crops, CRP fields and brushy border cover?
The answer is, think small. Look at the huge opening as if it were a checkerboard and hunt one block at a time. Doing so can take two hunters most of a day to complete, but at the end of the trip there should have been plenty of action and a limit of pheasants to take back to the truck.
For starters, hunt with the wind in your face so that flushing birds will be temporarily slowed as they ascend. Cover each block in 5-acre strips and, as always, be sure to kick every clump of corn, soybeans, grass or brush that may be large enough to hide a skulking pheasant.
Be patient and regimented in approaching these giant fields. Cover every inch of available cover slowly and methodically, always keeping in mind that some birds are going to remain on the ground moving ahead of you until they completely run out of cover.
At the point where the field finally ends and there is nowhere else for the birds to have gone, pause to consider the options. In most cases it’s best to revert to the “walk-and-block” routine, where one hunter sneaks quietly around to the upwind side of the field, while the other moves slowly through the brush in a zigzag pattern designed to drive any remaining birds toward the blocker.
In many cases birds will begin flushing wildly or even start running back toward the walker, but it’s best to continue executing the drive until every clump of grass and every strip of brush has been inspected. Remember, in most states the daily bag limit on pheasants is just two or three birds. You’re likely to see 100 of them in a day and get shots at a dozen or more, so avoid “flock shooting” and remain focused on the task at hand. Sooner or later, the birds will begin to flush within range, and you’ll have your chance at a limit day.
When time is an issue (in some states, pheasant hunting ends at noon, for example), pick out the most “pheasant-friendly” features of a large field, like wetland strips, brushy hillsides, crop-field borders or small islands of cover that stand out from their surroundings, and focus your team efforts on these and other obvious habitat landmarks.