Skip to main content

Solo Strategies for Pheasants

Lone pheasant hunters can find success if they get creative.

Solo Strategies for Pheasants

Large field drives and blocking are off the table for solo pheasant hunters, but you can still bag a limit. (Photo by M.D. Johnson)

I’m not an anti-social person. In fact, I’m quite the opposite. I often enjoy the company of other folks. That is, until the final days of pheasant season. Then, just like the great Hollywood actress Greta Garbo did, I want to be alone.

Many folks believe that pheasant hunting—at least successful pheasant hunting—is synonymous with long lines of orange-clad shotgunners walking back and forth through ideal cover behind a pack of dogs. And while this scenario is quite common throughout much of pheasant country and often does produce well, it’s certainly not the only way to bag ringnecks. The myth that the solitary pheasant hunter isn’t nearly as effective as the collective, or at the very best will kill far fewer birds over the course of any one season, is just that: a myth. However, the switch from the group mentality to the school of solitary pheasant hunting does require a bit of relearning.

Break a large area of cover into smaller portions that contain the best features and hunt each individually. (Photo by M.D. Johnson)

Going one on one with ringnecks means realizing that brains, not brawn, will rule the day, particularly as you move later into the season. Like any successful venture, solo pheasant hunting requires forethought—a plan of attack, if you will. Within this plan, there lie three important variables, those being scouting, strategy and implementation.

Sound complicated? Well, it can be, but it need not be, if you remember one simple concept: As soon as you begin treating pheasants the way an archer treats a trophy whitetail, the more successful you’re going to become. Period.


While a 100-acre parcel of set-aside or Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) ground might be just fine for a skirmish line sort of group pheasant hunt, it presents obstacles that, when taken as a whole, are for all intents and purposes insurmountable to the solitary hunter. Why? It’s simple. One-hundred acres is just too much for one hunter.

Find the best day and time to hunt in your zip code

So, does this mean that the single hunter should simply ignore such large tracts of prime cover? Certainly not, but what it does mean is instead of looking at and seeing 100 acres of cover, solitary hunters must train themselves to see the eight or 10 best 1-acre tracts within that 100 acres, and then hunt each as though it stood alone.

Scouting, then, factors in whenever the hunter takes time to study, learn and evaluate just such a situation, effectively cutting a large parcel into several manageable pieces, any one of which can be just as good as the whole.

The process works on private land, but will this scouting-to-downsize tactic work on public land? To be honest, there’s absolutely no difference between going solo on private land and hunting alone on public land, except for that one uncontrollable variable: competition. Still, competition doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative thing, and in fact, the solitary pheasant hunter can use the acts of others to his advantage.


When hunting public land alone, scouting becomes even more important. Most state wildlife agencies provide detailed maps of their public hunting areas. Using these tools, the solitary hunter will want to look for three things in addition to the overall lay of the land and those places that just look birdy. First, they’ll want to note those sections that contain cover best described as nasty. Or terrible. Or impenetrable. Second are those acres in agricultural production, harvested or not. And third, parking areas and trails that provide access to the interior.

The reason behind focusing on thick, almost impenetrable cover is obvious. Birds like it, and few hunters will ever consider beating bushes big enough to hide an Abrams tank. In many cases, though, seemingly impossible coverts can be broken into sections, much like downsizing 100 acres to one. Here, it’s a case of breaking down the whole, and looking not at a quarter-acre of tangles and briars, but a finger of cover or a corner, either of which can be worked out slowly and thoroughly.

Those parts of a public area in agricultural production attract hunters quicker than a blue-light special in the camouflage clothes aisle. And while it’s not wise to ignore such areas totally, it’s often more effective to skirt the standing or harvested ground and focus instead on the most unsuitable-looking cover immediately downwind.


Downwind? Yes, you read that correctly. Pheasants—particularly late-season pressured roosters, just like some crafty whitetails—will often tend to seek cover in the most unlikely of places. It’s not because they’re thinking, per se, that no one will look for them there, but simply because no one looks for them there. And, also much like a whitetail, a rooster will use the wind to his advantage, not in the same olfactory sense, but rather as an early warning device. To a rooster in November, the sound of a truck door shutting and a shotgun bolt slamming mean only one thing: run.

Solitary pheasant hunting requires a bit of relearning from group hunting tactics. (Shutterstock image)


To combat this, the solo hunter can employ two tactics, either individually or in tandem. The first is stealth. This applies not only to the slamming of doors and other unnatural sounds, but also to the amount of noise the hunter makes getting into position to begin working the chosen parcel of cover.

A second technique that often proves effective once a hunting location has been chosen is to park in an out-of-the-way place, where permissible, as opposed to the traditional parking areas. The hunter then approaches the cover from a non-traditional, and preferably downwind, direction that isn’t expected by pheasants used to the routine employed by the masses. It may require a longer walk, but it may also catch roosters off guard.

Click to subscribe to Game & Fish Magazine

But wait. Isn’t all this preparation—all this planning and strategy and sneaking around—going overboard? They are, after all, just pheasants.

Just pheasants? Yes, but whether wild creatures have ringed necks or antlered scalps, they are very wary and oftentimes very frustrating. These animals have four very elemental requirements: food, water, cover and staying away from predators, of which we are but one of many. Those who regularly hunt pheasants know it doesn’t take the avian survivors of opening week long to figure out the program. Still, these same, long-spurred veterans aren’t invincible, especially for those willing to leave the muscle of the masses standing at the field gate and opt instead for slugging it out with the birds one on one.


Shutterstock image

For solopheasant hunters with canine companions, success is summarized in one word: control. Of course a well-trained dog that stays close, looks back often, and reacts to non-verbal commands (whistles or hand signals) is ideal. A hunter-dog team working in this way is coordinated, quiet and highly effective on roosters.

A hunter can, however, allow the dog to mostly determine the course of action. My wife’s Lab, Jet, is a people dog: She stays close and constantly comes back to check on her people. I’ve capitalized on this by keeping her at heel until reaching the parcel we plan to hunt, then turning her loose and following her lead. It took only a handful of outings before she realized what I expected, and for me to translate her body language into pheasant-finding information. Using this tactic, Jet accounted for 58 roosters during one Iowa season and more than 40 ringnecks the following year.


Federal Premium Hi-Bird

These shotshells are all about the wad. Federal houses the shells’ payloads in a two-piece wad that uses SoftCell technology, which reportedly reduces felt recoil and improves pattern consistency at long ranges. Both are benefits for solo pheasant hunters, as is the price in these days of ultra-premium (read expensive) shotshells. Hi-Bird is available in 1 1/8- and 1 1/4-ounce loads of No. 4, 5, 6, 7.5 and 8 lead shot. MSRP: $10.95-$14.95 per 25 rounds;

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Sometimes you have to fish a bait that allows you to cover a lot of water efficiently. When you're on the search for bass that have moved into deeper water off the bank and away from obvious holding spots, a swimbait can locate them.

On the Search with Swimbaits

One of the best imitations of a wounded baitfish is the soft-plastic jerkbait, or fluke. A fluke darting just beneath the surface can be too much for a bass to resist. Rig it and fish it according to water conditions and cover to make this great bait even more effective.

Fun with Flukes

There are three models in SPRO's Outsider crankbait series: 55 (runs 3-4 feet), 60 (7-9) and 80 (19-21). Professional bass angler Jonathan Kelley goes over the specifics at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

SPRO's New Outsider Crankbait Series: First Look

Professional bass angler Jonathan Kelley highlights the features of SPRO's new lures at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

New Essential Series Spinnerbaits and Buzzbaits from SPRO

Syd Ribes with Sea Falcon highlights four new lures for saltwater fishing. At ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

New Lineup of Lures from Sea Falcon

Syd Ribes highlights two new saltwater lures from SPRO: Flutter Tail Shrimp and Cannon Ball Jig. At ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

New Saltwater Lures from SPRO

AFTCO's Matt Florentino highlights the features of the new Barricade cold-weather suit, a Best of Category winner at ICAST 2022 in Orlando. With Game & Fish's Adam Heggenstaller.

New from AFTCO: Barricade Cold Weather Tactical Gear

Three-time ICAST Best of Category winner Bubba covers it all with new knives set. With Bubba's Matt Kinamore and Game & Fish's  Adam Heggenstaller at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

4-in-1 Bubba Multi Flex Cutlery Kit

The innovative landing net will weigh and measure your catch while it's still in the net. Best of Category winner at ICAST 2022. With Game & Fish's Adam Heggenstaller.

Award-Winning Frabill Witness Net 'Keeps You Honest'

Game & Fish Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now