The ring-necked pheasant ranks high as one of America’s most sought after game birds. The “long-tailed bird” is a multi-colored beauty and considered a real prize by upland gunners who value its fine taste and sporting attributes.
Pheasants are sly, crafty and noted for their elusive, often unpredictable behavior patterns that can frustrate both experienced hunters and seasoned bird dogs. The pheasant knows how to use cover and terrain to their best advantage in order to thwart the efforts of pursuers, and the resourceful uplander should have a set of techniques and strategies that can be used to outwit the wily ringneck trick for trick.
Many pheasant hunters make the common mistake of trying to cover too much ground too fast as they quickly work from one field or cover patch to the next. On any given day, ringnecks will sit tight or run depending on conditions.
Work Slow, Thoroughly
Hunters and dogs who push quickly through an area are likely to drive running pheasants far out of shooting range and pass by the birds that hold tight.
A simple, but key technique involves working slowly and thoroughly, investigating every inch of ground and clump of weeds that might provide even the barest minimum of bird-holding cover.
In this writer’s opinion, hunting with a bird dog is the right way to go, and whether you choose a pointing or flushing breed, a trained dog is an asset in finding and recovering game. Whenever possible the dog should be worked into the wind, as this will make it easier for him to pick up scent and locate birds since the scent will be carried to him.
Pheasants will frequent food crops such as corn, soybean and sorghum and they also like to spend time in the islands of brush and other cover that are sometimes left standing in a crop field. Places like these should get plenty of attention on a pheasant hunt.
Favorite Haunt: Hedgerows
The hedgerow is another favorite haunt of the ringneck. Hedgerows of multi-flora and other cover often grow up and over, forming a tunnel that long-tails like to hide in. This situation is best approached by sending a dog down the tunnel while one or more hunters walk slowly along the length of each side of the row, ready for the flush and a shot.
Pheasant behavior can drive a hunter crazy, so why not turn the tables and drive the pheasant crazy? This can be accomplished by combining the slow walking technique with an easy “stop and go” procedure. Whether in an open field or dense cover, pheasants get nervous when slow moving hunters and dogs pause briefly at intervals while covering the area. Many times this technique will unnerve a bird and cause it to flush, when it would have held tight under other circumstances.
Terrain also figures heavily into pheasant hunting and the resourceful hunter will take the lay of the land into consideration. Ringnecks are known to display certain behavior patterns while being pursued through specific types of land and crop configurations. For instance, when being hunted in a big open field planted in food or cover, many birds will often run as far as possible rather than flush. However, if the field ends at the edge of a woodlot, road, ditch or other topographical feature, look for the previously running ringneck to flush wild at the point where the terrain and/or vegetation changes. It usually pays to work a field or hedgerow all the way to its end.
When driven, pheasants often head for the bottom of the nearest ditch and skulk along the bottom. They also have the ability to fly low and silently along the level of the top of a ditch. Simply being aware of these behaviors can be of help when hunting near a ditch or dry creek bottom, and here as in all pheasant hunting situations, shotguns should be carried at the ready with safety on.
Your listening skills also can be used to locate birds. Cock pheasants often come out of hiding at midday and late afternoon and their loud, unmistakable squawking can be heard for some distance. When you hear the crowing, head in the direction of the noise or in the direction that is seems to be moving.
When a bird flushes and escapes being shot, carefully observe its entire flight path and mark where it goes down, closely noticing the proximity of the landing spot to any outstanding feature such as a tree or hedgerow. Flushed ringnecks may hit the ground running and head for the next county, or they may land and sit right near where you think they landed, especially after a long flight. Always mark and follow up on flushes and don’t forget to look up as pheasants can and do land in trees.
Watch Banks, Shorelines
Many bird hunters break off the hunt when they come to the edge of a large pond or lake, especially if the bank or shoreline is brushy. This can result in missed opportunities since, when pushed, ringnecks often seek refuge along the shores, banks and dikes of lakes and impoundments, especially if the shoreline cover is thick. In such instances work right along the edge of the water, and expect the bird to burst out of the cover and fly along the shore or out over the water.
The ring-necked pheasant is a survivor and as a survivor he employs a battery of techniques to avoid danger. In order to bag pheasants, the hunter also needs a set of simple strategies designed to counter the elusive tricks of the long-tailed bird. Easy to remember techniques that apply to specific conditions such as vegetation and topography can go a long way in helping the upland hunter achieve many seasons of pheasant hunting success. Good hunting.