Now on his fifth Labrador, it’s obvious he likes the dual versatility of Labs for upland and waterfowl hunting. But he’s recently been hunting with the owner of a German shorthair and sees the value in the pointing breeds for tight-sitting pheasants.
“Regardless of the breed, you need a dog that listens to you and that doesn’t run ahead flushing pheasants,” explains Hipple. “You want birds to flush at 20 yards, not 120 yards. Making noise and whistling at dogs is old school. When I’m hunting public lands with my dog it’s all about how quiet you can be and trusting in your dog.”
Hipple expects his Lab to listen, but he doesn’t ignore its olfactory attributes. If a dog takes a different line than you wish, it’s likely leading you to an escaping pheasant, so he advises to give your dog some freelance latitude when hunting pressured ringnecks on public land.
With public land as his mainstay, Hipple incorporates a less is best philosophy when researching new hunting areas. Instead of rushing to large-acre locations he seeks smaller properties. He uses aerial photos and topographical maps to locate hidden water and brushy areas that may be overlooked.
“My basic philosophy of hunting is to break it down. I look for small spots since large properties usually receive more hunting pressure,” says Hipple. “I don’t go to a property looking for a limit, but instead have a goal of getting at least one rooster every three visits at a certain location.”
“States like South Dakota have great pheasant populations. You can literally flush 50 to 100 birds in a walk, but the majority flush wildly. You need to forget the flyers and focus on the sitters,” Hipple strategizes. “Slow it down and look for the ones sitting it out hoping to get out the back way. If the cover is thick you can’t go too slow.”
When Hipple finds himself alone he employs paranoia to make birds flush in dense, public-land cover. Instead of a slow approach he rushes toward the middle of a plot and suddenly stops in silence. He’ll stand there for five to 10 minutes, and this noise combined with sudden silence eventually wracks the nerves of hiding pheasants. They frequently flush at his feet in fear.
Last season Hipple and a pal hunted a public property late on opening weekend. It was obvious he was following other hunters, but he worked toward the thickest cover, a cedar-lined tree row, and even got on his hands and knees beside the dog to crawl through the nasty cover. When they exited into the grass on the other end they were greeted with not one, but two flushing roosters that were evicted from their public housing.
Steve Halverson, Pheasant Roundup
Today Halverson has tailored his strategies to take advantage of a pheasant’s natural escape instincts. He’s also replaced his kennel of flushing Labradors with pointing Labs and believes they offer the best qualities for an all-around hunting dog. They flush, they retrieve and they point in the ultra-thick canopy of cattail sloughs and millet grain fields.
“Birds characteristically hold well after a fresh snow and that’s when pointing Labs shine,” explains Halverson. “Hunters get an added adrenaline rush when they see the dog lock up and quivering. They know a bird is sitting right under the dog’s nose. I never tire of watching those flushes play out.”
As Halverson’s clientele grew he saw a need to corral more pheasants during each push through a field. In the early season Halverson adapted a style that was fluid. Hunters would line up at the beginning of a field and move toward blockers, but the outside hunters would progressively move forward creating an effective blockade against pheasants escaping from the sides.
“If we have 15 guys we’ll only have three pushing the thick cover, but hunters will also barricade the sides and block the end,” says Halverson. “The hunters on the side slide down and pinch gaps smaller and smaller until the field is basically surrounded. Safety is a priority and we instruct everyone that you only shoot if a pheasant is at 11 o’clock high in the sky or outside the circle. Nobody shoots low.”
It’s Halverson’s late-season hunt that drives hunters crazy with the “no-shooting” order, especially when they see the display of birds erupting from the fields. To play upon a pheasant’s instinctive nature to escape to heavy cover Halverson plants his food plots approximately a quarter-mile from heavy, cedar-choked shelterbelts. Before the hunt Halverson incorporates a white board to illustrate the strategy and position of every hunter. Again, safety is a factor since hunters will essentially be surrounding cover.
“When we hit the field we’re actually loading and then unloading a targeted shelterbelt,” Halverson expounds. “We start by circling a specific shelterbelt from a quarter- to a half-mile away and then move quickly toward it pushing through food plots. That’s the loading part. I instruct everyone to hold off on shooting and just let the birds escape naturally to the trees.
When everyone is in position surrounding the trees I give the signal and the shooting starts.”