Avoiding The Ringneck Runaround

A few weeks after opening day, pheasants get wise to hunters' habits and escape via the ground rather than the not-so-friendly skies.

With a little extra effort and some old-fashioned savvy, hunters can

usually coax late-season pheasantsinto the skies!

Photo by Mike Gnatkowski.

Point to the opening day of pheasant season on the calendar and many wingshooters will feel flushed because it is such a blast.

Truly, the first few weeks of the season are ripe with excitement and great hunting action. Birds are plentiful and haven't been hunted for months, so they fly great and provide plenty of fun days afield.

Unfortunately, the intense action at the first of the season is short lived. Birds quickly become acquainted with hunting pressure and the methodology of the wingshooting clan. The birds adapt and success becomes harder. Couple hunting pressure with other changing natural factors and the late season can become quite frustrating at times. The birds don't fly well and sometimes don't even seem to exist at all. However, by changing tactics, hunters can get the drop on birds, get them in the air, and have good success in the late season.

To have the greatest success, one must first understand some of the changes that occur by the time the latter part of the season rolls around. Focusing on the birds' adaptation to these conditions is the key to success.

There are three major changes during the season that affect pheasants. They are food sources, habitat conditions and pressure. All of these intertwine to create an entirely different hunting scenario later in the season.

Food sources are not static; they change with the seasons. Early in the season, there are usually a wide variety of favorite foods, including small grain row crops, weed seeds and possibly even some insects if the weather is mild. But as these sources diminish, birds are forced to move around to find alternatives.

The habitat undergoes plenty of change too. Grasses and other vegetation that stood tall and thick early in the year, often die, dry up and are laid down by wind. Places that offered an abundance of shelter and security before, now are flat and of little protection.

Finally, factor in pressure. Obviously, hunting pressure plays a big part. Add to that the fact that the habitat no longer offers as much shelter, and now the pheasants are much more susceptible to natural predators.

Pheasants often move into thicker cover and even into wood lots in some areas to find protection from the elements and predation. They quickly adapt to hunting pressure from man and often sit tight in thick cover or run along the ground and skirt hunters' attempts to get them airborne. This is the time when hunting savvy and varying methods will come into play.

One of the easiest ways to have success in the late season is obvious. Find new areas to hunt. Obviously, birds that haven't been hunted are going to be much easier to bag. Although it sounds improbable to find unhunted birds later in the year, it can be done with some legwork and knowledge.

One of the best ways to find new territory to hunt is to look for places that are not easily accessible. Most hunters will only walk so far from their vehicles. Some areas may be far from access roads and not open to ATVs. Although getting to these areas may take some work, the rewards could make it well worth the effort. Some really out-of-the-way places are loaded with pheasants that hardly ever see a hunter.

Contrary to secluded hunting areas, some locations are hunted really hard and often. Does that mean all the pheasants have already been taken? Not in the least. However, the birds have become wise and have learned how to avoid hunters.

Most hunters go to a favorite location, park at the same spot and approach the hunting area from the same direction. This happens repeatedly, especially on public ground where most hunters follow the same approach every time.

Pheasants will pick up on these tendencies and begin moving on the ground ahead of the hunters. As the hunters advance, the birds constantly stay just out of reach and will eventually move off the property to areas where the hunters can't go, or else the birds will reach the end of their normal ground travel and then fly out of the area when the hunters approach.

There are two ways to combat this and get the birds in the air. The first is to change the approach and give them a completely different look.

Try coming into the hunting area from the opposite end, whether it be a tree line or more of a field setting. Perhaps there are access roads or other ways to get to the far end of the location. If there are not, then try entering from the usual route, but instead of plodding through the area and pushing the birds, try skirting around an edge or by another route that won't go directly through the hunting area and get the birds moving.

Upon reaching the far end of the property, begin hunting in the exact opposite direction from which the birds are used to seeing pressure. This will often confuse them and cause them to revert back to holding tight until flushed and then taking to the air, thus offering shooting opportunities.

But be careful in how the area is approached. Depending on the landscape, the birds may stay on the ground and move away from hunters until leaving from the other end of the property. This is where hunters must look at the particular area and try to determine the most likely method of escape for the pheasants and then plan the hunt accordingly.

Another method is to split the hunting party into two or more groups and approach the birds from different directions. This multi-direction method will often cause the birds to hold in their positions or either pushes them toward another hunter or group of hunters. Eventually, the birds will be forced to take flight and give someone a shooting opportunity.

However, take extreme caution with this method. Hunters should wear plenty of blaze orange and stay in constant visual contact with one another to avoid creating an unsafe crossfire situation. No bird or other animal is worth the risk of a hunting accident.

Most pheasant hunters already use dogs the whole season. A dog not only provides higher hunting success, but it also adds much to the enjoyment of the outing. However, in the late season, the work of good dogs is not a luxury but an almost necessity.

There are two very important canine attributes that hunters need to utilize later in the year. Many times, though, to get the benefit of both will require two very different types of dog.

The first advantage is obviously the point. A good dog that can sniff out the hiding place of a pheasant, then cautiously approach and hold point until the hunters arrive is a huge benefit. This becomes even more of a factor late in the season when the pheasants move to thicker cover and hold tight.

When birds go into seclusion, a hunter needs a canine companion that will get in the thick stuff and work. Many dogs can run around a big wide-open field, but at times it is necessary that the dog hit a wood lot, cattail marsh or other thicker location to find the birds.

Another dog, trained entirely different, can come in extremely handy when the birds are on the ground and don't want to fly. Its sole purpose is not to find birds, but to get them in the air.

Known as a flush dog, many hunters will bring along a second dog to work with the pointer. Many people prefer the work of a Labrador, while other hunters prefer spaniels or other breeds. Regardless of the breed, the job is the same. After the bird is pointed, the flush dog goes in and tries to get the bird in the air rather than let it escape along the ground.

The way this dog works depends entirely on its training and handling. Some dogs will stay close to the hunters and not go to flush the bird until a shooter is in position. Once the hunter is in position, the flush dog goes to work and gets the bird up for a shot.

Other dogs not so well trained must be tethered until needed. A dog that doesn't stay tight and roams aimlessly around the hunting area will push or flush far too many birds that aren't close enough for a shot. These dogs are released when needed, then brought back to the leash after the bird is down.

These are but a few methods for getting landlocked birds up in the air. Pheasants may seem determined to hide out or run on the ground in the late season, but with a little extra effort and some old-fashioned hunter savvy, hunters can usually coax late-season birds into the skies!

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