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Planning for Pheasant (Part IV)

We all love when a plan comes together, but it can't until you make it. Too often pheasant hunters blunder through the fields without a plan.

Fifteen minutes later I was sweating through air bursts of cattail down while plowing through a challenging mess of leaves and stems. Despite our best efforts, eight birds had flushed wild and gone to the neighbors. Still, we worked the east edge hard, met in the middle and angled for the northwest corner, chasing four low-flying hens out wild. A thin line of weeds trailed out through clumps of plowed ground, just the kind of unlikely cover with enough appeal to encourage a sneaky rooster to hide. "I'm gonna work that out," I said. It was a 50-yard longshot, but 40 yards into it my efforts were rewarded when a huge, long-spurred cock bird realized his Houdini act didn't sell. Down in a burst of russet feathers he came, and my shooting for the day was over.
"We'll get your last bird about halfway down this side," I predicted. "'Bout by those small willows. There's always one in there." And sure enough, there was. Greg's load of copper-plated 5's ended another satisfying hunt.

With experience, one becomes adept at sizing up land and habitats, planning the most efficient routes for concentrating and trapping birds, and repeating them year after year. But farming changes habitat and thus the rules from year to year, particularly today with so much valuable CRP being plowed under in the latest rush toward corn production. The birds will adapt as best they can to new cover, making do with less of it as necessary, dying out where refuge from predators and weather is too slim. Hunters must innovate and compensate, too. Identify good country with a strong spread of nesting grass, a few pockets of deep, wintering cover, and a spattering of mixed croplands. Then scout as early as possible to ascertain pheasant numbers and get hunting permission where needed. Make adjustments as the season progresses and habitat changes due to frost, snow and crop harvests. Plan your daily hunts the evening before with several alternates. Base your approach on time of day and work covers efficiently, always nudging birds toward dense cover where they're likely to hold.

After that it's just time, effort and modifying your approaches as conditions warrant, all of which starts with a great plan.

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