Late Season Pheasant Hunting

February 15, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

Hunting season doesn’t end with the close of deer gun season. In fact, for some hunters the fun is just beginning.

While traditional pheasant hunting images resonate strongly with a warm October sun and a crisp morning walk with dew-soaked boots, don’t think for a minute that December pheasant hunting is reserved exclusively for hard core hunters.

While most pheasant hunters probably prefer the conditions during October and early November, I know many hunters enjoy a solitary December walk across the frozen tundra.

If you prefer a more relaxed hunt with less pressure, late season pheasant hunting may be just the ticket. Weather and field conditions will hardly be similar—snow covered CRP and more concern over wind-chill than sun-burn. The end result can still be a rooster in the bag and a smile on the face.

Understanding late season rooster hunting

If you’ve never hunted roosters toward the end of the season, a few pointers need to be kept in mind.

Understand that the birds have been hunted for several months, and they’ll probably be a little jumpy compared to opening weekend. Snow-filled CRP may find the birds taking cover in thicker slough bottom cover or shelterbelts near a food source such as a corn field.

When choosing a shotgun, some veteran late-season hunters who prefer a 20 gauge earlier in the season commonly switch to a 12 gauge with larger pellets because of the perception that late-season shot ranges are longer than those typically encountered in October.

Whether shot ranges change all that much from early to late is a good topic for coffee shop conversation. What is true, however, is that larger shot sizes are better for taking pheasants cleanly, and it doesn’t matter if it’s early or late.

Several years ago the North Dakota Game and Fish Department helped fund research to determine the most effective steel shotshell load for pheasants. In that exhaustive test, No. 2 steel was clearly the best load for clean kills on pheasants – at all ranges – compared to No. 4 or No. 6 steel.

The study did not compare lead pellets to steel.

Information on non-toxic shot is important because it is required for upland game hunting on all federal waterfowl production areas and national wildlife refuges in North Dakota.
 
Across the state, many national wildlife refuges are now open and available for limited upland game hunting including pheasants, grouse and partridge. They opened Nov. 21, which is usually after most migratory waterfowl have left the state.

Over the past decade U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel have worked diligently to increase hunting opportunities after waterfowl migrations and seasons have passed. Each refuge has specific regulations, including open and closed areas. Don’t let the specific regulations deter you. Refuge staffs are more than happy to explain regulations and might even offer a tip or two along the way.

To learn more about late season NWR hunting opportunities, contact your local Fish and Wildlife Service office or logon to the Game and Fish Department website: www.discovernd.com/gnf

One other point is the varying conditions. Cold weather can make dressing properly a trick. Staying warm during the first walk, and limiting perspiration as the day wears on, make layering important. If the pheasants are falling you’ll forget about the freezing cold weather, but across the wind whipped prairie, many a late-season pheasant hunter has spent precious field time in the truck, trying to thaw out, while those who dressed properly continued their hunt.

And similar to a warm October hunt, you’d be well served to bring a cooler along, but this time of year you’ll want to keep the birds from freezing. If you’ll be field dressing the birds, be sure to leave proper identification as required by law.

Pheasant, grouse and partridge seasons are open through Jan. 8, 2006, so there’s still plenty of time to get out there and enjoy what the late season offers


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