There are a lot of things we’ve found that make for a successful pheasant hunt. Here we’ve compiled 5 tips to help you with yours.
HUNT NEAR WATER
Oredson, the manager of Denman Wildlife Area in southern Oregon, and Holzhauser — whose Siskiyou County, Calif., ranch is rated as one of the best pheasant hunting destinations anywhere — get chances to see pheasants under all types of weather conditions. Early in the season and during dry weather patterns, pheasants will often hang out in areas with lots of water.
“They are going to be closer to the water holes,” Holzhauser says of birds in dry weather. “They are going to be in the good cover.”
Oredson agrees: “The birds will gravitate to streams and water holes during hot weather.”
Also look for birds near other water sources, aside from with streams and ponds — such as faucets, irrigation canals, livestock watering containers, pump houses and irrigation equipment.
USE A GOOD BIRD DOG
Each fall, many hunters are successful by walking through cover and flushing birds without a dog. But the most successful hunters are those with a good bird dog, be it a Lab or a pointer. Not only will a dog help you find more pheasants and other upland birds, but can also track down pheasants after they are shot.
“I’ve noticed that really good bird dogs are a huge advantage,” says Vince Oredson, a state wildlife area manager in Oregon. “I’ve seen fields get hunted over and over throughout the day. And then someone with a dog with a good nose will go in and find birds right away.”
Some hunters prefer Labs, which are excellent at flushing pheasants from heavy cover and also unmatched when it comes to tracking down birds after they are shot.
Others like a pointer, which will locate pheasants hiding in grass and brush and let their owner know exactly where they are.
“A flushing dog that can get into the heavy cattails and other cover can be an advantage in the middle of the day,” Oredson says.
“The pointer dogs work better in the shorter grass where the birds will be early in the morning.”
Burt Holzhauser owns the Rising Sun Hunting Preserve in California, one of the West’s best private-land pheasant hunting areas. He utilizes both Labs and English setters at his ranch.
“You have to have a dog,” Holzhauser says. “You lose too many birds because you knock them down and won’t be able to find them without a dog.”
Some private hunting clubs provide dogs and handlers for an additional charge.
SELECT THE RIGHT SHOT
While many hunters prefer 20-gauge shotguns for pheasant hunting, some like a 16-gauge. And the ever-popular 12-gauge, also used for duck and goose hunting, will suffice.
At Holzhauser’s ranch, lead shot is allowed. “I like No. 5 lead shot,” Holzhauser says.
“Something comparable to 4 and 6s. A heavy load, because the birds are tough enough that 7 1/2 isn’t going to knock them down.”
Holzhauser has seen hunters shoot birds with 7 1/2 shot. Despite being hit, the birds will often survive the blast and live.
If using steel shot, go with a bigger size than if you were using lead. On public lands, lead shot often cannot be used. Instead, size-4 steel shot is a good choice.
“Four seems to be the most popular size shot,” Oredson says. “You have a little less range with steel. If you keep them under 50 yards, you should do fine,” he says of shot range.
Many hunters become frustrated when they don’t bag a rooster within the first half hour of hunting.
Be patient, says Oredson. “If things aren’t working, take a break, sit down, eat a sandwich.” he says.
“Things change all the time. Another hunter can push birds into our area. Don’t get too frustrated. Sometimes you have to let the birds come to you.”
If you know birds are in an area but have hunkered down, slowly work the area with your dog. Break down the entire area and methodically going through all the cover with your dog.
And of course…
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Private hunting clubs are gaining popularity with hunters as places to train their dogs before hunting pheasants on public-land areas. Hunting clubs and preserves often open before the general pheasant season and are great places to give bird dogs exposure to pheasant hunting.
Break out your rain gear and waterproof boots after the first big storm of fall for some of the best opportunities of bagging a pheasant.
“I have quite a few people who start young dogs here,” Holzhauser says. “I can flag the birds or tell the hunter exactly where they are. You know your dog is on a bird and not a rabbit or something else.”
Hunting clubs also often have a variety of types of cover to expose flushing and pointing dogs to differing terrains, vegetation types and hunting situations.
“I like to mix it up,” Holzhauser says of training new dogs. “I put them through everything from grain fields to tall wheat grass to sagebrush.”
It’s also a good idea to get reacquainted with your shotgun before the season starts — instead of when your dog points to or flushes the first rooster of the season.
“Practice shooting some clay pigeons before the season,” Oredson suggests. “Go out to the gun range and make sure your gun is functioning right. Pattern your shotgun. Make sure you are shooting a good pattern.”
Just as deer hunters scout before rifle season opens, good pheasant hunters will make a trip to their favorite hunting area before upland bird season begin. Watching where the birds are without hunters around will reveal locations to keep an eye on early in the mornings and late in the afternoons. Scouting for pheasants will also reveal cover types to be aware of once hunting opens.