I don’t think you should be able to call yourself a true pheasant hunter until you are carefully taking possession of a long-tailed, pointy-spurred, January ringneck from your trusty four-legged spaniel. This rooster was not the result of an accidental encounter in an easy-to-walk, short-grassed field that a group of hunters happens to be in discussing football and cussing black labs. That type of bird was baked alongside some potatoes weeks ago. This end-of-the-season rooster is the culmination of something even more meaningful – something special enough to be called late-season pheasant hunting.
This type of pheasant hunting takes a dedicated individual that is willing to walk some of the season’s gnarliest cover in search of one of the most elusive critters to wear feathers. But to these men and women in orange, the chance to be close to a colorful, cackling bird as it takes to the air is worth the pains of the pursuit.
Knowing these educated roosters will be employing their best survival tactics, late-season hunters will be doing the same, and strategy is employed prior to the first field of the day. It begins in the selection of the hunting party. Four is pretty much the maximum; two is ideal for many situations. Usually chosen are hunting buddies that share the same vision. Absent are the boisterous and those that cannot close a truck door quietly.
Even more important is the selection of canines, a must for proper bird hunting of any kind. My suggestion is one per person, with a maximum of three that can work well in such a group. The four-legged hunters must be driven to find birds on their own accord with little interference from the two-legged ones. The kind that sniffs boot heels of the walking hunter, best be left to the couch.
Habitat is the mantra of the pheasant hunter and there are two habitats that January roosters favor. The preferred is the habitat that no hunter chooses to seek them in. It may be the spot where the nastiest grasses and/or brush lives or the spot that everyone overlooks – the place no one expects to see a rooster. Either way, once the refuge from human intrusion is found the veteran roosters have little reason to leave. If you find one of these spots and approach it wisely, the birds may be surprised by your appearance and provide opportunity not unlike earlier in the season. But chances are you get just one good crack at them.
If a hunter-less habitat is not an option for the birds, you will find savvy roosters in the second kind of habitat, places with options. The most common options for a January rooster include running and flushing far outside of shotgun range. You know you have found one of these places when the birds are exiting the field as you are entering. The best strategy here is to simply hunt differently. These pheasants have been around hunters – and of all the predictable critters, we humans are the easiest to pattern. So, come at the field from a different location, follow the dogs and not a straight-line sweep through the field, work from the lightest cover to the heaviest or from the outside edges to the middle and be sure to enter the field as quietly and quickly as possible.
Yes, the easy birds are for the most part gone, but so are many of the hunters, too; which leaves some of the most rewarding bird hunting to real the pheasant hunters. If you’re reading this between sunrise and sunset, there’s a good chance I will be pretending to be one of them right now, too!