It’s late season in South Dakota. The wind is blowing, the thermometer is shivering and the state’s famous ringnecks have earned their annual graduate degrees in hunter avoidance. It’s the perfect time to go rooster stalking.
Yes, Virginia, you can “stalk” pheasants. I just did it, solo, without a dog, and bagged three roosters in two hours. From public hunting lands. With a 20-gauge, improved cylinder choke and 1-ounce loads of No. 6 shot.
The trick is to walk softly, maneuver strategically and shoot straight.
By late fall, with crops harvested and many fields bare, pheasants crowd into dense cover — habitat such as cattails, bulrushes, tall prairie grasses, and dense weeds. CRP fields are perfect, but they’re also often vast, which intimidates many hunters. Not me. I got my three birds today from a huge CRP field.
Here are some tricks: First, reconnoiter and find the nearest feed field. This will usually be corn, milo, wheat, or beans. Pheasants want grains now for the high carb fuel. They’ll roost in dense escape cover, then run or fly to the open fields in early morning and mid- to late-afternoon to feed. They gobble grain as quickly as they can, then hustle back into cover to digest it.
Don’t waste your time hunting dense cover when the birds are out feeding. Save that for midday, say 10 a.m. through 2 p.m. Before and after that, get closer to those grains.
I like to work the middle of dense cover in midday. This nudges birds toward the edges where they may hold for a close flush. I’ll walk down the center of a big CRP field, then circumnavigate the edges, zig-zagging anywhere from right on the edge to 30 yards in. Birds often flush at the edges and especially at each corner.
After 2 p.m., I begin coursing closer to feed field edges, again intending to encourage birds to move that way, which is probably what they’re doing anyway. By 3 p.m., I’m walking cover close to feed field edges. Today I spotted a dozen birds feeding in an open bean field. When they saw me more than 300 yards away, they all fled back into the grass. And that was their mistake.
Walking quietly and relatively slowly with the gun ready for instant action, I progressed steadily through the grass, staying about 25 yards from the bean field edge. Hens began to flush. And flush. And flush some more. A few roosters went out wild. I held fire and kept walking, noting where the bulk of the flushing birds went. Then I headed that direction, walking downwind and as quietly as possible.
I don’t know if the birds can’t hear or see me until it’s too late or if they just think they can hide and let me walk by, but, as often happens, they began flushing after I’d nearly stepped on them. Five hens went out in easy range before the first rooster erupted. I grassed him within less than 20 yards. Fifteen minutes later another got up at my feet and I spilled him into the tall grass. The shot spooked another ringneck, but my autoloader malfunctioned. After clearing it, I pushed on for another 15 minutes before flushing and dumping my third and final bird of the day.
It’s important to center birds, lock eyes on where they fall and hustle right over. Resist the urge to look at other birds, even those flushing in range. It’s too easy to lose a dead bird in CRP grass or cattails if you look away. Glue your eyes on the fall and march right to it. When you have that bird in hand, you’re free to seek another, dog or no dog.
Happy late-season pheasant hunting, Solo.