Late Season Pheasant Hunting

February 15, 2009 by  

By Jason Phillips

Although the days of tight holding roosters may be behind us, there are still some opportunities for avid upland game hunters. The young of the year birds are now well educated on how to elude hunters and the wily “old” roosters continue to demonstrate how they became old. To this point it has been survival of the fittest for pheasants, and late in the season it is the same for pheasant hunters themselves. Contrary to early season hunting when you can get away with almost anything, hunting “smart” is essential late in the year. The challenge of late season pheasants requires innovative tactics and at times can be very frustrating, but the challenge makes success even more rewarding.

The first challenge is finding pheasants. The two things to look for are an accessible food source and good cover. Generally pheasants will “migrate” to the areas that provide these two key ingredients in the most abundance. In many situations, if you see a few birds around a piece of thick cover or food source, there are many more pheasants in the same area. Although this may appear to make the hunting easier, in fact it makes it even more difficult. Similar to the challenge of fooling a large flock of ducks or geese to commit to a decoy spread, large groups of pheasants can be difficult to outwit. They find strength in numbers, when one bird decides to flush it will almost always lead to the rest of the birds following them. Instead of relying on roosters flushing at your feet, most shots come with roosters flushing at least 35 yards in front of you….if you’re lucky. It is not unusual to watch the majority of birds flush 250 yards or more out of range.
There are a few things that can even the odds. The first is to play the wind, if at all possible walk into the wind. Although this may seem obvious, especially when hunting with dogs, it is critical. Playing the wind when picking a piece of cover to walk can ensure you and your dogs are on the birds before they are long gone. A few years back we were hunting a large CRP field, the field was full of pheasants but the birds had been hunted very heavily the entire season. There were about 14 people in our hunting party, so we definitely had the ability to cover the field. A traditional drive with a couple of “posters” at the end of the field had failed us in the past as the birds simply flew out the sides of the field in between the “drivers” and the “posters”. Therefore we devised a plan and decided that we would spread out evenly around the field and then walk to towards the middle. This would essentially corral the birds and cut down on any escape routes. The plan was perfect in theory, the only problem was that we had been making our plans on the upwind side of the field. Just as we finalized our plans the opposite end of the quarter section of land exploded with pheasants. As we watched the birds continue to leave the field we knew that we had failed to pay attention to this key factor. We made sure to make our plans on the downwind side of the field after that painful lesson.

At this point in the season, teamwork between members of a hunting party becomes increasingly important. Our group has enjoyed good days and bad days chasing late season roosters, but there was one group of hunters in our area who always seemed to enjoy a higher and more consistent level of success than any other group around. It was almost a mystery, the land that they hunted had a similar amount of pressure and number of birds, but what was their secret. I finally asked them what they were doing that allowed them such high levels of success even late in the season. He said it was simple, he called it “Hush Hunting”. I must have given him a look like he was crazy, because he soon defined what he meant by Hush Hunting. It was a method that his hunting party had been using for years. Instead of yelling “Hen”, “Rooster”, yelling at their dogs, hooting and hollering about a good shot, etc. their group hardly uttered a word through the entire hunt. Put simply if the birds don’t know you are there they won’t flush wild. Although it seems simple for most pheasant hunters this is almost impossible. Extremely well trained dogs and a high level of confidence in fellow members of your hunting party are essential to making this method work.

Although there is not a sure fire method that will ensure a limit of roosters, hunting “smart” can help even the odds when chasing late season roosters.

Check out other pheasant hunting information here at Nodak Outdoors.


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