When it comes to fall hunting preferences, I am definitely a bird man. I love working the big honkers in the fields, decoying ducks on the water and chasing the wily ringneck around upland cover.
The geese and ducks will come and go as the migration takes place, but the pheasants pretty much stay put. Typically, their home range is about a square mile. And that’s it.
Because pheasants are home bodies and do not travel far during their lifetime, it is imperative that hunters locate habitat that will keep the birds happy. Pheasants aren’t going to move far if they have the food, water and cover they need. For this reason, hunters that are working smaller sections of habitat must locate prime real-estate that offers the best bird holding opportunities.
In my home state of Minnesota, the last ten years has been hard on the pheasant population. With the loss of more than a thousand square miles of CRP habitat, there simply are fewer pheasants because there are fewer places for them to call home.
Because of this, many of the locations we target for roosters are quite small with most coming in at under a couple of hundred acres. Some areas of winter cover we work are actually less than 50 acres.
Due to the small venues we hunt, our party of hunters is also small. Typically, our pheasant hunting crew will contain two to four hunters.
Although I like the small group make-up, it does create some tactical issues that need to be addressed. Planning the strategies for hunting even a small piece of cover is extremely important.
Containment is the first word that comes to mind. A pheasant’s first line of defense is almost always to run and not to fly. This is especially true when hunting later in the season. This fact should always be part of the strategy session put together for hunting a habitat plot.
A number of times in my pheasant career, I have worked a stretch of cover with fresh snow on the ground. The snow has allowed us to track the movements of the birds as we push through the cover. I have been astounded at how far these birds will run before they flush. The flush often happens when they hit open ground and can no longer run in cover.
Containment can be found in a number of different forms. Field roads, blockers, ditches, or plowed terrain can all serve as containment devices that are a catalyst for flushing running birds.
The whole process of planning containment strategies can be compounded by the desire to hunt the dogs into the wind. There are times we pick our fields strictly by the direction of the wind. This isn’t always possible, but is desirable if we have multiple options for that day.
The number of hunters in our group also plays a role in the locations we hunt. Pushing a big cattail swamp in late season with two people can be an exercise in futility. One may see a lot of birds but nothing close enough to shoot.
Small party hunting has intimate qualities that I like. However, it does present some problems at times because there are not enough hunters to cover all of the escape routes. Pheasants are very good at finding places that hunters aren’t.
Even so, we seem to get our share of birds. I guess having birds get away simply means there will be roosters around the next time we come. When you think about it, that isn’t all bad.
By Jerry Carlson