By Richard Hines
With the final days of pheasant season coming into view, it may be time to head out for one more trip. True, this year’s opening weekend may have been one to remember but very few hunters take advantage of “one more weekend” especially at the end of the season.
Many states in pheasant range still have plenty of hunting ground. Kansas, for example, has its Walk-in Hunting Access or WIHA as it’s called. Hunters will find thousands of acres scattered across the state. In fact, most western states with good pheasant numbers are very accommodating to out of state hunters and the best thing about going late is availability, not just on public hunting lands, but motels, restaurants. You will find plenty of room.
That’s the good news, the bad news… pheasants like many wildlife species we hunt have become educated and the simple hunting techniques you used in October and November may not pay the dividends of a trip.
First, food has gotten scarce and roosters have heard all the car doors slammed, dog whistles blowing and people talking that they need for the entire year.
A ringneck pheasant will use all his KSAs, knowledge, skills and abilities to avoid you. If given the chance, roosters will stay on the ground to avoid you or your dogs. When you get out to scan the field, try to disrupt his KSAs.
I learned some of my best pheasant hunting tricks from two different hunters, one from Nebraska and another one from Kansas, both of which never owned dogs, but they have killed an unbelievable number of pheasants.
When they were kids, their hunting was strictly for food. Both were sent out to get a bird quick and get home. Although they never knew each other, their techniques are so similar it is uncanny. While there were several methods I learned over the years, their end of the season style is one I use today.
First, when you get out of the truck, be stealthy. Do all your talking before you get there, don’t slam doors, dog boxes, if you do have dogs let them out when everyone has gotten ready, know the plan. If you are walking rows of milo or corn, do so at a nice steady pace and signal using hand signals. As you approach the end of the field or where two different vegetation types meet, slow down and when you are 75-100 feet before the end of the row, stop and wait. Many times, birds will hold before flying or making a mad dash across a road.
Stopping makes the birds hold long enough for dogs to work the end of the row. Wait a few minutes, then move up another 25-30 feet and stop again. If you push through too fast birds may sit and wait for you to pass before flying.
Ever get to the end of the field and have a rooster bust out a cover you just walked through? That’s more than likely what happened. Stopping and slowing down will get the birds nervous and force them to flush. Stationing someone at the end of the field as a blocker will help as well.
One of the best late winter cover types to look for are shelterbelts, rows of evergreen trees and shrubs which help break the wind. Pheasants will hang in these areas for protection from the wind and elements. This thermal cover is especially valuable if it is adjacent to crops such as milo or corn.
Another area you will find birds are harder to hunt but they are there are stands of native grass. Many of these fields are former crop fields and have been replanted as part of the Conservation Reserve Program. Known as CRP fields, they will hold birds, but the cover is expansive, and it takes several hunters to effectively cover a large field. Depending on the number of hunters, work your drive so birds are forced into a ravine or a corner where two fields meet works great.
Another site to key in on are stands of cattails and canary reed grass along waterways, ponds, and creeks. Canary Reed grass looks like cattails but has a large bushy seed head on top. These patches of cover are typically found where there is excessive moisture in the summer months, but the high stem density provides thermal cover as well as protection from predators. These thick stands are tough to navigate, and most hunters will walk around the cover. If you can send at least one hunter through the patch to roust out holding tight roosters.
It never seems to match opening weekend, but I have had some great hunts at the end of the season. Just understand, you will have to work for it. You will be dealing with birds that are well-seasoned veterans of hunters, dogs, and guns not to mention, snow, and colder weather.
Hopefully, a couple of these tricks will add a few birds to the freezer before the close of the season.