Hunting > Upland & Waterfowl

Planning for Pheasant

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.

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.

"Where'dya wanna go today?"
"How about Taylor's marsh?"
"Taylor's? Heck, that's back the other way. I was thinking Schnieder's CRP."
"Naw, naw. That's no good. Weil and his bunch went through there yesterday. It's all blown out."
"You got permission on Taylor's?"
"I thought you did."
"That was last year. I haven't gotten around to asking him yet this year."
"Well, here's my cell. Call him."
"I don't have his number. Call information."

With a start like that, it promises to be a long day for our hunters, and an easy day for Taylor's pheasants.

Gotta Have a Plan
So, rule No. 1: Make a plan. Early. And set up everything the way my favorite, new, young hunting partner, Greg Stoebner, did last December.

"I'll pick you up right after church and we'll hit that creek just south of town. That'll take about an hour, hour and a half. Then I can get you back in time for dinner at your mom's."
"That should be over about 1 p.m., but we'd better make it 1:30, no, 1:45 just in case. I can do the dishes and get some brownie points."
"So I'll swing by right at 1:45?"
"Perfect. Want some pie?"
"If you insist." Greg grinned. It's enough to delay any pheasant hunt. But we'd risk it. "Okay, then we'll head west to Loory's. I got permission from him last night. That's the brushy draw connecting that big CRP field with that cornfield southeast of the road."
"Where we flushed those 13 roosters last year?"
"That's it."
I feigned a swoon. "Glory land."

And it was. Running smoothly and on time, we followed his chocolate Lab, Titus, through prairie cord grass and bulrushes as he put up five roosters, one that escaped a hail of pellets, one that flushed too wild to shoot at, and three that flushed just right and went into our pockets. An hour of pleasant work and we were early for dinner.

In the afternoon Greg's pup again nosed five roosters from a mix of grass, chokecherry thickets and willows. The sun was still high on one of the shortest days of the year when we headed back to town. Not bad in a hard-hunted state during the last week of the season, thanks to a plan.

Stick With It
While planning any day's hunt, don't quit too soon. If field A proves empty, you need a solid field B and quite possibly C through G. In other words, backups. You can start hunting the most productive coverts first and work your way down to the long shots or mix them based on time-to-target. For instance, it doesn't make sense to drive past field B in order to reach field A, beyond which lies field C. Hunt B first to save drive time. It's likewise foolish to drive an hour to one spot that you guess (or hope) might be marginally more productive than a slightly less productive location just 10 minutes from home. Strive for efficiency. Many times we've picked up limits in small pockets of fringe cover along the route to our preferred rooster paradise, eliminating the need to burn gas and time. This preserved the big field for another day. If you opt for this approach, temper it with wisdom and hunches. We've foolishly wasted hours and beat ourselves silly trying to pull a ringneck or two from really fringe habitat. Be particularly cautious about hunting borderline habitats that require long hikes. The exercise will be good for you, but you'll waste a lot of time getting it. Nothing is more frustrating than arriving at the best covert of the day with just a half-hour of daylight remaining and turning back with roosters crowing or flapping in front of you. I once drove so frantically to reach one last field that I crested a hill and slid into the back of my buddy's truck. He'd seen a bird and had stopped on a muddy, slippery road. A $1,500 repair bill was too much to pay for a half-hour hunt.

Above all, don't get distracted by long-shot ideas or your buddy's fantasies unless you're willing to invest your hunt in exploration. A certain amount of that is necessary every year, but try to reserve it for unproductive hours such as early morning in South Dakota or late afternoon in Iowa when shooting hours aren't open. Or after you've already had a successful hunt.

On the other hand, don't be a slave to a bad idea. If things aren't working out, or if you see a slam-dunk deal elsewhere, be flexible enough to take advantage. My Buddy Brad and I were driving to our family farm one fall when we spotted three roosters diving into a weedy ditch along a railroad grade. We parked, turned out the dog and made a quick pass through the narrow stretch of prairie grasses, wild roses and plums. Ten minutes later we had five rusty roosters laid out on the tailgate.

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