Pheasant Hunters - Richard

John- hope these pics get thru to you this time...

The photo with 4 roosters was taken after a 1 1/2 hour hunt in [location deleted]. Cooper, my 15 month old wirehaired vizsla made 7 points and I killed 4 roosters over him. It was one of his few experiences over pheasants that held, as it was evident that the property had not been hunted for weeks.

The other photo showing him retrieving was unfortunately the only rooster we took at that location, although there were 10 roosters crossing into the CRP field on our arrival, quite a scene! Hoping for some snow in January for a late season trip.

Thanks, Richard

his best daysWe encourage and welcome member contributions to this website and to share their experiences for all who enjoy reading something other than CNN, Fox News, MSNBC recycled world events. Thank you Richard for another viewpoint that makes the collective experiences on this website all the more meaningful to a greater range of hunters

As a member of the association and long time pheasant hunter, I thought it might be informative and useful to share some thoughts regarding pheasant hunting and the techniques I have employed over many years of hunting. After speaking with John Wenzel, he has graciously allowed me to write a series of articles, regarding hunting techniques, which I hope will be helpful and entertaining during the off-season, which seems to last forever. My only disclaimer is I am not the consummate expert bird hunter, but I hope to be able to share some hunting techniques and ideas that have worked for me. I regret that I do not have as many photos as I would like to illustrate my thoughts, however if you can follow the verbiage and ideas and apply them to a place or type of cover you have hunted before, I think the direction will be understood.

bleak country sideIn the accompanying photo (below), you will see a typical cut corn field. This photo does not accurately depict the strength of this cover, but imagine a heavy thick corn stubble, maybe even with foxtail and other weeds scattered through it, although not necessary. Let me first say that I always hunt with a dog under control and I usually hunt with only one other person and many times by myself. Now first off, most guys when pheasant hunting will mainly hunt CRP or other heavy cover, assuming the birds will hold better (which they will) and seldom hunt the harvested row crops. But, I am here to tell you that you can be successful out here in this type of cover and sometimes with a minimum of effort.

a lucky oneGenerally, you will find the birds out here in the morning and evening feeding. For me, I like to work these fields between 0930-1130 and especially between 1430-1630. Next, most of you are now thinking, how can you get pheasants "up" in a 160 acre (or larger) cornfield with only 2 hunters much less by yourself. Well, it can be done with some degree of success and here is how I get it done.

First off, you need to to survey the whole field and "size it up" so to speak: you are looking at the shape of the field, contours, if any, wind direction and most important the adjacent cover. Now, assuming I am looking at a typical square or rectangular dry land corn field here is my battle plan. I want to hunt a corner of the field bordered by the road I drove up to it on and a side that is either plowed, planted in winter wheat, hay ground or pasture, etc. In other words I want to hunt the corner where the road and the adjacent side of the cornfield is without cover, allowing the birds no avenue to "run out" on me and escape. From that corner of the cornfield, about 50-75 yards (this distance will vary, depending on how many hunters are involved) up the road I will begin a march straight ahead into the field, weaving back and forth a few rows for a distance of about 100 yards. Then depending on which side the edge of the field is on, I will turn either right or left, making an L pattern if you will, and walk all the way to the edge of the field. At this point I may or may not have flushed any birds. No problem. Because when I walk back from the edge and start back down the field, from the direction I just came, that part of my walk, all the way back to the truck is where I expect to find the birds. What I have essentially done is forced the birds (that chose not to run ahead of me) to "leak off" to the side and hold, thinking I have passed through and have left the field. Again, on my way back to the truck, using the cornfield border (with no cover) and the road ahead as my "blockers", that is where I expect to find the birds and as I get closer to the road, ie. the end of the field, that is where many birds will jump.

over thinking

Illustration by Bernie W.

This technique works even better with 3 hunters, 2 to walk and one to block, back on the road where you will exit the field. The beauty of this little maneuver is this: you can make this jaunt with as little as one hunter or as many as 3 or 4 hunters and make it work, either way, but granted with varying results. The best part is the time involved, as little as 25 minutes invested in hunting a part of the field, not a marathon walk through an entire cornfield from one end back to the other and the results can be much more rewarding. I have shot many birds using this technique and not expending a lot of effort. What makes it so affective is you have used the natural surrounding cover (or lack of it) to help you "corral" the birds and get them up within gun range. And you can hunt many different cornfields in different areas and still have time to get "back into the weeds".

Good hunting, Richard

The toughest pheasant hunting situation, in my opinion, that we all face is hunting large expanses of CRP land. There are many full sections (640 acres) and halves (320 acres) enrolled in the program and these heavy grass acreages are a pheasants best cover. As everyone can attest, the birds have a field day in this endless tall grass cover and can drive dog and hunter crazy by simply running ahead and dodging even the most seasoned veterans.

what is going onWhen faced by this type of cover, many opt to put their dog down and follow the canine into the wind in hopes of getting a rooster or two to hold for a point or flush. The other common tactic is to get as many of your buddies together as possible and make an organized "drive and block" through the cover in hopes of affectively covering as much ground as possible and "driving" the birds to a point where they must take flight. So, obviously a single hunter or a tandem have little or no chance of affectively hunting such huge expanses of this heavily grassed cover, right? Well, not necessarily, because there are some tactics you can employ to up your chances of taking birds from this type of cover. Here is how I get it done.

First, as usual drive around as much of the ground to be considered as possible. Why? Well, as usual you want to size everything up, dope the wind, check out the proximity of this ground in relation to the nearest row crops (corn, milo, soybeans), etc. But, regardless of what you find, here is a tactic that will turn the odds in your favor.

Similar to the "cornfield strategy" I spoke of in my previous article, you need to use the natural "break-points" in the cover (the county roads) to help you affectively trap the birds. Now, after all these years of working this cover by hunting the corners, I have yet to understand why the birds are in this part of the field, but I have my own theories. At any rate, taking the wind into consideration, start into the field, about 75-100 yards or so from the corner (of the 2 county roads) and walk diagonally across the field, so you come back out of the field back onto the road again.

that over thinking hunter again that has drawn conclusions from untestable data

Illustration by Bernie W.

Your final (2nd) pass through the field, (about 30-40 yards closer to the corner) on the way back to the truck, will put you closer to the "corner" if you will, and again you are pressing the birds between the two county roads and the very corner itself, and on this last pass back to to your starting point, is usually where you will put up the birds. Now please take note, I am not saying there are no birds in the middle of the CRP, because there are undoubtedly some out there. But, these corners not only hold birds, but they give the single hunter (or pair of hunters) the advantage of using the road as "blockers" and again using the natural terrain to help you and your dog affectively hunt this type of cover.

tracks in the sandOne other tactic you may want to try, if you are an early riser, is to hunt parallel to the road in the CRP (about 25-50 yards in from the road), if there is a crop field on the other side of the road. Early in the morning (to make this work you must get into the field no later than 30 minutes after sunrise) the birds will be moving to the edge of the CRP, on their way to feed, across the road. Taking a line in about 50 yards from the road, and walking parallel along the road is a good tactic to intercept these birds on their way to feed in the field across the road.

If you are going to execute a "down and back" (walk one way and then back to the truck) go deeper into the field on the first pass and when coming back to the truck, hunt closer to the road, in the CRP. As always, be careful when you are within shooting range of a road and be aware of traffic that may be passing by on the adjacent road. These tactics have put a lot of birds in my bag and again, without the marathon walk through an entire CRP field. Plus, when you hunt this way, you get to "sample" more CRP and hopefully find the fields that hold more birds.

Good hunting, Richard

really seraching for something to write aboutIn this article I would like to suggest several ways to verify the presence of pheasants in a particular field. Everyone has seen the footprints in the snow where pheasants were present or moving across the landscape, but it seems more and more we have winters with little snow to take advantage of this tactic for locating the birds. However, when driving past properties you are considering you may be able to glean a little more information, even without the snow, than you once thought.

Many county roads out in pheasant country are not graveled or sparsely so, and if you look right at the edge of the shoulder, in the soft dirt or loamy soil where the county road maintainer has left his "drag mark" you can often see pheasant tracks. It may sound a little crazy, but if you drive slowly enough you can spot tracks where birds crossed the road into the fields. Now obviously this does not mean you can pile out of the truck and hit this part of the field and expect to find birds every time, but it does give you some information about where the birds have been previously active and that may just put a few birds in your bag. When engaged in this practice please be aware of oncoming or following traffic while concentrating on looking in the dirt for tracks.

That is not pheasant droppings they are owl scatThe other practice I employ, which I am sure many others do as well, is while walking through CRP fields, I am constantly looking down in the grass for "scat" or droppings. Not only does this verify that birds are using this cover to roost in, but it tells me where they are roosting, which is very helpful for deciding which part of the field to hunt in the late evening or, better yet, at sunrise in the morning. Pheasant scat is mufti colored, with brown, black and patches of white present. (I apologize for not having a supporting photo, but until now it never seemed important to get a picture of it!) It will most likely be found in little openings in the heavy grass, because pheasants roost in these small open areas at night, in case they are disturbed by a predator this open area gives them a non obscured flight path for escape. At any rate, these are several practices you can employ in order to spend your time in more productive areas.

Good hunting, Richard

In my final article concerning cover I would like to address late season pheasant hunting tactics. First of all, and this applies to pheasant hunting at anytime during the season, when you arrive at the location where you will exit your vehicle and begin hunting, be absolutely as quiet as possible. Obviously this is not a deer hunt you are about to undertake, but it is unbelievable how much talking, cajoling, door slamming and yelling at the dog that takes place before some guys every get a foot onto the turf. What many do not realize is that pheasants have an acute sense of hearing and when this activity occurs you are telegraphing your approach and intentions. The birds learn quickly that all that noise spells trouble for them and they will immediately begin their evasive tactics, either running or flushing wild from cover.

Whenever I hunt with others, we discuss our approach and directions concerning how we are going to hunt a place before we ever exit the truck. Then while walking, whenever possible, it is best to use hand signals or whistle at one another to convey a change in route through the field. On the other hand, when you get to the end of a piece of cover and you are finished hunting, you may want to stop and converse and let the dog roam around for a bit at the end of the cover. In this case you want to make any remaining tight sitting birds, that may have not been discovered by the dog, to become nervous and flush. But, for the most part a quiet approach and limited talking are the best tactic for getting the birds to hold tight.

Also as the season wears on, try a completely different approach to how you hunt a property. Pheasants begin to anticipate the approach from hunters, especially when they are pushed in the same direction. Although the wind direction often dictates how you hunt a property, try walking down a fence line or along an edge and hunt the property crosswise or back to the road, instead of the old route everyone else takes, out, in, down and out. You may just be surprised at how much more affective this approach can be and don't fail to hunt the weaker parts of the cover too. Pheasants get tired of being rousted out of their favorite loafing places and they will seek peace and solitude in weaker cover, if they find they are safer in such places. Remember, as the season wears on, look for places where most hunters would not "waste their time" and I bet you will find some birds there.

Good hunting, Richard

What is shown is an old idea recycled to appear an original thoughtAlthough I call this "The Hat Trick", it has nothing to do with hockey and everything to do with a method for recovering downed birds in the field. The best practice one can undertake after the bird is down, is to quickly proceed to that location and mark the spot with ones hat, as shown in the accompanying photo. By placing a marker, you can now come back to a reference point and not become disoriented while searching for the downed bird, as it is very easy to do.

My practice begins with marking, using the hat and then standing still while I give the search command or "dead-bird" command. My belief is that too much walking around in the suspected area of the fallen bird only serves to wash out the scent and make it more difficult for my dog to find the bird. After a reasonable amount of time (and the dog has not recovered the bird) I then call the dog and have him walk closely while I begin circling the hat, in every greater circles, hoping to find the bird or cross a scent trail which my dog can follow. This method has proved very successful in finding downed birds and helping the dog in his recovery/search. As a last resort, having still not located the bird, I will finally take my dog down/cross wind about 75 - 100 yards from the marked spot and then slowly weave my way back and forth toward the hat, again in hopes that a scent trail will be found leading the dog to recovery of the bird.

Pheasants are tough customers, and unless you absolutely smack one solid and it falls straight to the ground, the chances are good that the bird will not be where he has fallen. This method will help you in a routine search of the area in attempting to locate the bird.

One other note I would like to make, if you shoot a bird and it glides down or even falls hard, but with wings out stretched or falls with it's head up...shoot again, because this bird will likely hit the ground running and may never be seen again. Obviously you want to exercise extreme caution when shooting at a bird going down, looking out for a pursuing dog or other hunter, but absent of those hazards, it is a good idea to shoot the bird again. The problem is, this is the toughest shot in upland hunting, because you have to shoot under the bird as it falls, which is an unnatural shot for upland hunting. Over the years I have watched a number of hard hit birds fall, never to be recovered by the dog...and I wished I would have shot again to anchor the bird.

I will never forget my wirehaired vizslas first pheasant which he retrieved at 15 months of age. We had just started a hunt around a frozen farm pond with heavy cover when a buddy of mine jumped a bird away from Cooper and myself. He shot the bird and it hit the ice with a thump and lay stone cold-dead (or so we thought) in the middle of the pond. I sent Cooper for the bird and when he got within 10 yards of the bird, it suddenly jumped up and began running for the fire weeds along the shore, with Cooper running across the ice in hot pursuit. And yes, he recovered the bird, but another reminder of just how tough these birds are and how strong their instincts are to survive.

Good hunting, Richard

here we goOK, so as you view this photo you are no doubt asking yourself, "what the heck does a box of shotgun shells and a nylon have to do with anything?" please let me explain, but make sure you also explain to your wife why you have nylons in your hunting gear, BEFORE you leave home!

one more gfiFirst the shells, I am not a Fiocchi rep, but I will tell you that after hunting birds for 40 plus years, these shells are the best. They will kill pheasants (even in the 20 ga.) dead, period.

I use the 20 ga. 3" mags with 1 1/4 oz. of # 5's, some guys I know are happy with the 2 3/4", 1 oz. # 5's and or # 6's too. The point is, there is not a better shell out there to use for pheasants. A little overkill at times? Maybe, but I hate losing a cripple and these shells will dispatch birds with authority. They also come in the 12 ga. variety, but personally I see no need to use anything more than than the 2 3/4" in the 12 guage.

niceNow some of you will say, "hey, wait a minute, I often jump quail where I pheasant hunt, I don't want these in my gun when a covey gets up." I quite agree, but here is how I handle that situation. Especially, when hunting alone or with only one other companion, which I do a lot of the time, my practice is to let the covey break, not shoot and watch where they go. Too many times I have taken a single or even a double on the break and lost my concentration working with the dog and the downed bird(s) and never found the rest of the covey again. I would much rather follow the whole covey and work the singles with a better opportunity to get a few more birds, than shoot on the break, so if you follow this practice just switch over to your quail loads and go get 'em.

The other factor that plays out, especially in the late season, I DO NOT want to take any quail on a covey break, until I can determine how many birds are left in that covey. If you shoot a double on a break and their were only 6 - 10 birds in the covey, you may well have dealt a blow to that covey from which they will never recover. Survival through the rest of the winter for less than 6 birds is "iffy" at best and you will not have a covey to hunt next year, so better to conserve the resource and be smart about it, in my opinion.

Last, an explanation for the nylons. I learned this trick some time ago and it works well for any bird with the exception of a big goose. If you shoot a really nice bird (pheasant, duck, etc.) and decide to have it mounted the nylon will come in handy to preserve the feathers and get the bird to the taxidermist with the most feathers intact.

Just open up the nylon (knee highs are best) and have a friend gently drop the bird head first into the stocking, while gentle rolling the nylon back toward the tail. You end up with a compact bird package, with all the feathers laying flat, smooth along the body and have preserved the bird for the taxidermist. From there I wrap it gently in newspaper and find a nearby restaurant or bar that will let me place it in their big freezer until I am ready to go home (most are happy to do this for you). The bird will stay sufficiently frozen all the way home, until you can get it in your freezer or to the taxidermist for mounting.

Hopefully my tips will help you put more birds in the bag this season.

Good hunting, Richard

Richard on Pheasant Hunting page 2

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