Pheasant hunters gear up for the start of the season when iridescent ring-neck cock pheasants run a gauntlet of guns and dogs. Hunters are locating flushing and ultimately bagging the birds in their mind’s eye. Dedicated hunters have an arsenal of pheasant hunting tips.
These birds can be cautious as they move through areas of cover, or daring as they launch skyward in a mass of color and movement. We’ve put together a list of tips on pheasant hunting to help you become a force to be reckoned with during the season.
From dogs and driving techniques to shotguns and appropriate attire – we’ve got you covered! There are gun tips, dog tips, and general tips to assist you along the way. You can check out our review of the best pheasant hunting dogs in our earlier article on this topic. The goal is to make you as familiar and comfortable with the most important topics in pheasant hunting so you’ll be ready to go on that first morning and throughout the season.
A bit of information on your prey
Ringneck pheasants were introduced to the U.S.A. in the first years of the 1800s. Native to China, the birds flourished in areas with similar flora and fauna to their first homes. Pheasants like to stay in areas of tall vegetation or old fields making them hard to see even amongst a flock.
The birds often forage in weedy areas or along dirt roads. Pheasants stand out more in the winter, in particular, the showy males as opposed to the duller female pheasants. Springtime into summer is the time the males will perform their calls and displays of flapping wings in more open areas to lure females to mate.
Male pheasants have long tapered tails, iridescent green heads with a bare red patch around the eyes. Most males and females have a white or dun ring around their necks though there are some sub-species who have lost this characteristic.
Males have chestnut colored breast and sides with intricate contrasting patterns on wings, back, and breast. The males have a crowing call, an alarm call and a flight call.
Female pheasants are smaller and stockier with a shorter tail, dun to grey coloration and a white undertail. Both males and females make noises by beating their wings together as they launch into the air. The flock roosts in trees but nest on the ground producing multiple pale olive colored eggs.
Hunting pheasants can be challenging but savvy hunters have learned to use a variety of tools to bag these birds. The best hunters use all their strategies and what nature offers to ensure successful hunts. From using weather information to strong hunting pressure to bird-dogs these hunters will bag their limits each fall.
BEFORE THE HUNT
Refresh Your Skills
Pre-season is a great time to get in some practice shots of your own – from clay pigeons to a shooting range – to perfect your pattern. Another tip is to scout your best hunting locales before the season starts.
Early mornings and late afternoons are the best times for reconnaissance. You can locate various types of cover and note where the pheasants are congregating
The Right Shotgun
Pheasant hunters use shotguns ranging from 20, to 16, to 12 gauge. Some hunters use lead shot while others prefer steel, though the range of steel may be slightly less. Practice with both will ensure you’ve got the right range when the season starts. See our list of the top hunting rifles that can help you hunt your favorite game.
Going to the Dogs
Partnering with a great bird dog or two is always a great idea. Labs and pointers often accompany successful hunters. Though you can walk through the cover to flush pheasants, a dog will lead you to more birds and track downed pheasants you’ve shot.
A dog with a good nose will help you in a variety of ways. Labs are excellent at flushing pheasants even from heavy cover while pointers will let you know precisely where the birds are.
To Train or Not to Train
Take your veteran pheasant dogs out pre-season or begin teaching new dogs what they’ll need to know to be successful in the hunt much earlier in the year. Training a strong pheasant hunter takes time.
If you don’t have a trained dog you can buy one – with a big-ticket price – for the hard work put in by the trainer. If you’re really lucky, perhaps a friend with a trained dog would lend you theirs, or better yet, he will come along on the hunt and share their knowledge of great hunting dog skills.
Hunting Clubs, public or private, as well as game preserves, are optimal pre-season venues to reinforce or begin dog training. The first storms of fall herald a good time to start reviewing various covers and topography.
Each state has different hunting regulations and you’ll do well to pay close attention to them. Some states have pay-to-shoot hunts and many states have youth hunts that can be found online or in regulation books. Read our article on how to get an FFL for more information.
Stay on top of your state’s tag and recording stipulations – as well as the regs of any other states you visit! Other things to keep in mind to stay legal include required hunter education, load and firearm controls, and hunter orange requirements.
Gather the Facts
Talk to fellow hunters to cull the successful from the amateur. Bragging rights go to the successful hunter and those that weren’t lucky will have to re-think their strategies.
Local contacts can be invaluable for keying you into little known and pheasant-rich areas such as private land adjoining public spaces. Permission to pursue pheasants in these areas can lead to an awesome hunt!
ON THE HUNT
Before leaving the truck for the hunt, make double sure you’re dressed appropriately. It might be chilly after leaving the heated car, but the hike in will warm you up. Dress in layers so you’re warm in the mornings and can remove layers as the day heats up.
Proper rain gear and a light weapon will also help you ready yourself to make the great shot. Remember to feature orange prominently in your attire!
How will you know pheasants are near? Two ways to tell are by tracks made by the birds and by crowing roosters. Pheasants often search dirt roads for food and come out of cover to feed before roosting for the night. Corn is a crop that draws pheasants like a magnet.
The tall stalks provide shade, cover, and food. Likewise, stands of cattails lure the birds in. Pheasants like marshy ground but it can make the hunt more difficult.
Lay of the Land
Modern conveniences will help you know where hunting is safe and where the pheasants are congregating. A good topographical map or an online map program can also pinpoint this info for you.
While pheasants have been in the U.S.A. for over 130 years, industrial farming has decreased their habitat. One way to ensure a good pheasant hunt is to be on top of pheasant stocking dates and numbers. Check your states hunting regs or call the wildlife unit.
Stocked pheasants are often less savvy about predators and weather than native birds. Tire tracks can be big clues to specific stocking points. Start from the tracks then move outward. Listen carefully because these new birds just might give their locations away!
The Early Hunter
Be one of the very first hunters onsite and you’ll get a prime spot. Early morning birds will be moving away from massed hunters so by positioning yourself farther away you’ll already be where the pheasants are heading. Other hunters can be your unwitting allies as they drive birds your way!
Instead of heading out from your favorite hunting spot right at noon, pack in a hearty breakfast or quite snacks and hunt through the traditional lunch break. Smart hunters stay quiet and wait for the pheasants to emerge out of cover. Move quietly in the direction of the birds and you’re likely to have success now that the many hunters have decamped for an hour or so.
Master a Strong Driving Technique
When hunting with a group, station one or two hunters uphill from the area in which you’ll be driving the birds. A zigzag pattern to drive pheasants from their cover will often yield positive results.
Pheasants generally retreat uphill after being driven from their lowland cover. The birds will fly once their cover is broken. That’s when the hunters stationed uphill will have their best shots.
Patience Pays Off: Tips x 2
Don’t be discouraged if you haven’t bagged a pheasant right off the bat. All hunting is a combination of know-how, strategy, and patience. You’re not the only hunter in the area and pheasants can be very wary. If your gut tells you the birds are there, begin a systematic drive through the entire area. The pheasants will fly if you’re patient!
Another tip, opening day can sometimes be a disappointment with masses of hunters and dogs, crops yet to be harvested and general overcrowding. Consider waiting a couple of weeks or so and conditions will be cooler and less crowded – with plenty of birds!
Early Morning & Evening
As with most hunting, the morning and evening hours see the most activity from pheasants. The birds search for food in the early morning and pull back into cover once dogs and guns make their presence known. The exception to this rule of thumb is private hunting clubs that provide optimal conditions by limiting hunting pressure throughout the day.
Once hunters and dogs pack it in for the day pheasants will usually come back out to feed before roosting. The last 45 minutes of daylight can be very productive hunting times, as can early wet mornings.
Pheasants take advantage of proximity to water during the early season or if it’s particularly dry weather. While the birds will still seek good cover, you can count on them to move in closer to watering holes during hot dry spells. Pheasants can also be found near man-made water sources such as irrigation ditches, pump houses and above ground watering troughs.
When Cold is Your Ally
Dogs noses are well suited to cold and wet conditions. They are able to scent pheasants more easily than in hot weather. Early cold snaps are often prime times to hunt these birds. When heavy snow flattens the bird’s regular cover, check out the nearby woods.
Roosters will often decamp to brush piles, bushes or waterways. Be sure to pack waterproof gear in these early season hunts. And look for tracks in the mud and snow as the season progresses!
Livin’ on the Edge
Other hunters can sometimes be your unwitting allies as they drive birds your way. A good place to stake your claim is by natural barriers such as streams or the end of thick cover zones.
Sneaky Runners & Flyers
Some pheasants will run inside the confines of their chosen cover instead of flying. Hunting a running pheasant, like hunting a rabbit, can be a different strategy altogether. Don’t be surprised if a pheasant runs right by you. Having blockers to secure the exits will up your chances of success in the ground hunt.
At other times, birds that are hunkered down listening to you walk will get nervous when the sound stops. They may run or fly if they cannot determine where you are.
Gadgets to Consider
Primos Pheasant Call – Model #342
Weight: 1.8 ounces
Dimensions: 9 x 3.5 x 1.2 inches
- 4 out of 5 stars
- Decades of trusted use in the field
- Primos Pheasant Call is proven under tough conditions
- High quality designs and materials
- Hardwood barrel produces loud accurate calls
- Loud raspy calls help locate and draw out cock pheasants
Faulks Pheasant Call – Model H-10
Shipping Weight: 1.6 ounces
- 5 out of 5 stars
- Walnut finished with hand tuned metal reed
- Recreates very naturalistic call tones
- 60 years of experience
- Family business
- Each Faulks Pheasant Call Model H10 individually tested
Pheasant hunting is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors while in pursuit of some of the most beautiful game birds in the U.S.A. Pheasant hunting can be both very rewarding and simultaneously challenging.
The season, eagerly anticipated by hunters, has much to offer the novice and the seasoned hunter as each new year brings new opportunities for the hunt.