North American pheasant hunting is one of the most popular experiences for hunters across the globe. While some consider pheasant to be a challenging hunting, we will show you some creative ways to ensure a successful hunt.
Pheasants are beautiful creatures, which are a joy to hunt. Pheasants are large birds, which fly low and in a single direction. Some hunters believe pheasant hunting is easy at first, but quickly realize there is more strategy required.
In this content, we’ll focus on the basic pheasant hunting techniques, which include:
- Selecting a location
- Hunting at the right time
- Using a quality hunting dog
- Picking the right plan
As odd as it might sound, it pays to go into pheasant hunting with a plan. This content will provide you not only a basic plan, but the advanced creative tips you need in order to be successful.
Pheasant History and Geography
While most people think of the Midwest states for pheasant hunting, it actually all started in the Pacific Northwest.
Ring-necked pheasants were imported from China in the late 1800’s and implanted in Oregon. The Willamette Valley was the first area in the United States to successfully sustain a population of wild pheasants. Shortly after, these birds were brought into Washington State. Soon there were over 10,000 pheasants living in the Pacific Northwest.
While pheasants do not traditionally do well in coastal areas, you can still find good populations in Northeast California, Eastern Washington, and Eastern Oregon. The agriculture in these areas has changed over the years, so the populations are not quite as high as they used to be.
Mid-west states like Kansas and Nebraska have become famous for pheasant hunting. In addition to the farmlands, you can also find pheasants in wildlife areas that raise them and release them for hunting populations. Private hunting clubs across the country can also be good hunting options.
Be Aware of the Pheasant Hunting Rules
As with any type of hunting, safety and conservation must come first. This means knowing the state rules for wearing hunter orange, ammunition requirements, and hunter education requirements.
It also means that you should know the bag limit and tagging requirements for pheasants. In some areas you must tag each pheasant just like you tag a whitetail deer. Regulation books can also give you some great tips as to when and where to hunt. Often they will show release sites for pheasants on public land, which obviously can be a good place to start.
There are also private and public organized hunts for youth and adults that can be enjoyable. Read your literature, and you know you will be prepared to hunt and kill pheasants. We suggest searching for pheasant hunting rules in your state online through the conservation and wildlife organizations.
Use a Well-Trained Pheasant Hunting Dog that You Know
While you can hunt pheasants without a dog and be successful, it is much more difficult. It requires excellent strategy as you walk around clumps of cover and flush out the birds. In addition, pheasants can blend into their cover extremely well.
Not only may you never see the live birds, you might lose the ones you shoot. Labs and pointers are excellent dogs for pheasant hunting, but do not limit yourself to these breeds.
My family used to have a Brittany spaniel that was excellent for pheasant. These dogs will ensure you find birds and bring them home for dinner. It is possible for one field to be hunted several times in a day without a dog, and the hunters have no luck. Then a hunter brings a dog and limits out in a few hours.
There are two primary types of dogs for hunting pheasants.
- Flushing Dogs – There are flushing dogs like labs that will find the birds and get them moving. This makes the action very consistent. They are also excellent at retrieving the birds. Flushing dogs are great in the middle of the day when birds tend to be in cattails and tall brush.
- Locating Dogs – Then there are pointers that will locate a bird, but not flush it out. That gives the hunter a chance to get in position before they must take a shot. Pointers tend to be better early in the morning when pheasants are feeding in the shorter brush. You can sometimes find private hunting clubs that will rent you dogs for the day if you do not have access to one.
Stick to Cold Weather Pheasant Hunting
There are several reasons why cold weather can be key to pheasant hunting success.
One of the biggest is that your dogs can run harder and longer in cold weather. Keeping in mind that the dogs are pivotal to the number of birds you find, this is very important.
In addition, tracking pheasants is much easier on snow-covered ground or mud. Often, the first really cold storm of the fall is the best time to hunt. The birds are not spooked, but you still have all of the advantages of the cold. Just be sure to dress appropriately.
There is a time of year that one must change up their pheasant hunting strategy. This is the early season when the weather is hot and dry. The idea is to drive birds towards hunters waiting to shoot. This works with dogs or without dogs, but the more bodies pushing birds the better and flushing dogs are obviously the best.
In this strategy, several hunters are placed at the top of a brushy hill. Then one or more hunters with or without dogs will walk a zigzag pattern up the hill. The tendency of the pheasants will be to run up the hill until they reach the other hunters before they flush out. This gives the shooters the best possible chance of a good shot.
Shooters will be positioned in areas where brushy cover ends, as this is where the birds will take flight. However, you never want to perform this strategy moving downhill. The birds will most often take flight well before reaching the shooters when moving downhill.
Take Your Time/Be Methodical
Always keep in mind that pheasant hunting is a marathon, not a sprint. This is not a type of hunting in which you can expect to get your first pheasant right out of the gate. There are often times you need to hunt most of the day to have a good hunt. This is a strategic type of hunting.
If you have a field to work, work it in grids. Be sure you and the dogs cover every square foot of the field small plots at a time. If you get frustrated just take a break, hydrate, and eat something. Then get back at it. You never know when weather, hunters, or other factors might push birds right into your area.
Stick to Water Sources
Any good hunter will tell you that water sources are vital for hunting any animal. More so than any other resource, water drives animals into a predictable pattern. For birds including pheasants, this means that populations may stay close to rivers, streams, ponds, and lakes.
This is especially true during the early season which can be hot and dry. You can also rely on this pattern during any dry periods late in the season. In addition, you cannot rule out man-made water sources. This includes water faucets, animal watering troughs, irrigation, canals, and pumping stations.
Look for the Pheasant Signs
Tracking pheasants to find a good area to start can be very important. This is especially important when you are hunting in an area with which you are unfamiliar. This might be as simple as seeing a pheasant crossing the road as you drive through. You can listen for the crowing and look for tracks in the mud.
There are a few keys to scouting for pheasants. One is to track at dusk. Right before sundown is a great time to spot birds and hear crowing. In addition, corn and cattails can both be great indicators of where to scout for pheasants. Both areas offer shade, tall cover, and ample food sources for the birds. If you are going to look for signs in the evening, these are the hotspots to hit.
Practice for You and Your Dogs
The offseason is a great time to get your dogs ready, especially young dogs. Often you can head out to hunting clubs to get your dogs trained for pheasant hunting. The clubs will either place a bird in a specific spot, or will tell you where the birds are located. You can then train your dogs to either flush or point at the pheasant.
You can do the same on private or public land, but it is much less organized. The controlled environment of a hunting club allows the training process to become much more efficient. It also allows you to ensure that your dog is smelling a pheasant and not a squirrel or a rabbit.
You also want to train your dog on several different terrains and brush types. Make sure they are comfortable with tall brush, shorter brush, agricultural fields, and marshy area. Take them through both steep and level terrain.
Prepare yourself for pheasant season like a deer hunter would prepare for deer season. You should get out your shotgun and pattern it to test your range and ammunition. Shooting some clays is always a good idea.
It’s a good idea to plan out the first day of your hunt. Go out to your area a few days in advance and do your scouting. Look everything over without any other hunters around, and decide on a few primary locations for your hunt.
Timing Is Everything
As is with most animals, pheasants are most active early in the morning and late in the evening. It is cooler during these times, and with low light the birds are safer from hunters and predators.
Morning is great because the birds are often feeding in short grasses and are not yet spooked. As the day pushes on and hunting pressure increases, the birds retreat into taller and thicker brush.
They will come back out again in the evening, but only as hunting pressure dies down. The exception would be at hunting clubs. Often you can request the times at which birds are released and the locations.
Shot Size and Type
The most popular shotgun for hunting pheasants is the 20 gauge. However, many people also hunt pheasants with 16 gauge or 12 gauge shotguns. Any of these will do fine. However, the type and size of shot is very important for a clean kill.
In areas where lead shot is allowed, a No. 5 shot is perfect. You can get by with a No. 4 or No. 6 shot. However, stay away from anything like a No. 7 ½. This size of shot will often leave the bird alive even when it has been hit.
If you are required to use steel shot in your area, always step up to a bigger size. This is often true on public land. A No. 4 steel shot is ideal for pheasant hunting. Be aware that using a large steel shot will drop your range, but anything inside of 50 yards should be fine.
Pheasant Hunting: Let’s Get Started
Pheasant hunting can be one of the most rewarding types of hunting if you know what you are doing. There is something unique about a group of people tromping through the brush with the dogs sniffing the ground. The birds are beautiful, smart, and quite tasty. Take the time to practice these strategies, and hopefully you will have great success.