Pheasant Hunting 101
by Naomi Shapiro
One of the most pleasant hunts, is going after pheasant. Now, not all of us are blessed with the wide-open prairies of places like North and South Dakota. Pheasant hunting in those states--and others in the West--is almost "a religious experience." For the rest of us, there are indeed flocks of wild pheasant, but not nearly in the abundance that are found in the states and area just mentioned.
So what do the rest of us do? Well, we can trek the woods and open land and hope to find some birds--and it happens. But a lot of us--like guide Phil Schweik--go to pheasant game farms. Please, no snickering--it's REAL, wild hunting! These game farms raise pheasants to be hunted. Their habitat is totally natural. There are no large wire enclosures. What there is, is a lot of land--big acreage--where the pheasants roam. Game farms continue to provide hunting opportunities for thousands of hunters all over our great country.
You hunt pheasant by covering brush or fields with dogs. Pheasants aren't hanging out in heavy hardwoods or cedar swamps or high up in trees. Unlike grouse, pheasants like open areas, big fields, with tall grass, or cut corn rows or corn stubble--places with lots of edges, like a brush row--something that forms a dividing line between two crops or the edge of a field. Pheasants like to fly out into the open and put distance between themselves and whatever spooked them. Typically, a pheasant shot is fairly easy (I know--everyone misses at times), as compared to grouse that fly into heavy cover, and zig-zag.
Best time to hunt pheasant is on a bright, sunny day, when they're very active. You hunt with dogs, pointers usually, who, when they find the birds, will stand stark still and literally "point," and wait for you to get close enough to shoot--and then they will flush the birds. These magnificent dogs are as critical to a successful pheasant hunt as your shotgun.
One thing you'll have to think about is proper clothing. Walking through low brush or grassy plains means that you'll get "burred up" on your clothing from all the plant life that abounds. And these prickly burrs can wreak havoc when it comes time to try and get them off, and can be painful as all get-out if they come in contact with your skin. Some hunters wear leather pants, or some type of material that will resist these burrs from clinging to you. Just make sure it's not cotton!
Color or camo doesn't make a lot of difference. Most hunters do wear some type of blaze orange, so you know where your hunting partners are, and so the dogs know where YOU are. Indeed, many areas require blaze orange. Good idea to wear it, reg or not.
As for the type of firearm--most anything you have as a shotgun will work. All you need to do, is, for instance, change your duck shot for upland bird shot--like to a #5 to #7 for instance. Something that has a wide pattern and lots of pellets is best. It doesn't take much to kill a pheasant.
Now here are a couple of suggestions for those who, like a lot of us, may not have the bucks to pay for a game farm. Hunt the land NEAR or next to that game farm. Indeed, some hunters buy land next to a game farm, for just that reason. No matter how careful the game farmer might be, there will always be SOME birds that will figuratively "fly the coop," and end up "next door." If there's a regular farm, ask the farmer for permission to hunt his land--and as we've said many times before--farmers are good people; and you can ask them if they ever see any pheasants on their land--if the answer is "yes," ask for their permission to hunt their property.
Here's one more "little secret." When hunters hunt on a game farm, they pay for so many birds being set out. Let's assume that they pay for 100 birds, but only get 50 (and that's not unusual--what happens is that savvy "friends" (or those who "beg"—or maybe offer a token gift) the game farmer might do what is called "hunting cleanup." The game farmer, if you are a good friend, will sometimes allow you and maybe some of YOUR friends to hunt for the balance of the set out birds. It does happen. And no, we're not giving out any names. We want to REMAIN "friends" with these game farmers.
As for the pheasant itself: As a rule of thumb, they're the size of a big chicken. They have very beautiful colors, and the males with their gorgeous coloration are often mounted. Indeed, out West, there are competitions and prizes awarded for the pheasant with the longest tail. And pheasant is absolutely delicious. It tastes much like grouse.
Hunters always have to make choices, of where and what to hunt. Not having great populations of a particular quarry doesn't mean you can't hunt. There are creative ways --without spending a ton of money--that you can take advantage of. We hope we've given you some useful ideas when it comes to pheasant hunting.