On paper the ring-necked pheasant shouldn't be all that tough to kill. He's a predictable fellow, feeding around the same time each morning and afternoon and rarely straying more than 800 yards from his roost. So, he's far from the most elusive bird in the uplands, and when flushed he isn't the swiftest creature either. (Though if given time to accelerate, pheasants can top out around 60 mph, just 5 mph shy of the powerful mallard.)
And yet the pheasant is in reality a terrific challenge. He can confound experienced dogs of the noblest pedigree, and more than once I've seen him make a mockery of dogs with "NFC" in front of their names. Put a few blockers at the end of a field and you may bag a few birds, but the smart old roosters still make their escapes, either flushing 100 yards away or high-tailing it underfoot never to be seen.
Even when roosters flush in range the game is far from over. I bore witness to an accomplished sporting-clays shot missing rooster after rooster to the point of red-faced exasperation. He expended every shell in his vest and then several of mine, but never scratched a single burnt-orange feather. Compared to pass-shooting waterfowl or low-gun skeet, shooting a ringneck ought to be like bringing down a floating beach ball—yet I miss him often enough to make it look routine. Do his colors confuse our vision? Perhaps it's his striking tail or guttural cackle that affects our senses. All I know is not a bird exists that can more quickly make a shotgun feel foreign in my hands.
Fortunately I occasionally get on target, because few upland birds rival the pheasant on the table. Terrific roasted whole or chopped, the breasts are impeccable sautéed in a thick cream sauce, pan fried with butter and olive oil or, best of all, baked in cheese and marinara sauce for my wife's pheasant parmesan. And the legs! Cooked at low heat with leftover broth or chicken stock, they make a soup that's only to be discussed in hushed tones.
Such flavor is enough to tempt a man into easing his truck toward the road's edge when pheasants are spotted filling their gizzards—but of course that wouldn't be right. The pheasant is a bird to be taken on the wing. He has earned our respect, so much so that the nickname "ditch chicken" seems a tad derogatory. It suggests a dimwitted fowl easily brought to bag. We may never know why, but that just isn't true.
Tips to Lay Out Ol' Tom
Fly-down time at dawn
is, quite naturally, assumed by many hunters to be the best time all day to bag a tom. Trouble is, the hen or hens that old fella is visiting at that time of day may not let him off the hook long enough to pay attention to your calls and come anywhere near your setup. But during the peak of the breeding season, those hens are apt to visit their nests by noon. Your best shot at calling him close may come then, when old tom is lonely for attention.
Many times a tom hangs up
not because of an obstacle, but because he's walked far enough toward your call and, having not seen a hen, walks away. Your mistake: setting up too far outside that all-important range and never seeing him. When you call, be sure of a good line of sight through terrain and vegetation, and depending on cover, try to get within 100 yards of him before plopping down.
If you hear a gobbler moving away from you,
don't waste more time and breath trying to call him back. Instead, get up and hustle in a wide circle around him. If you need to hear him for reference, use a locator call. When you feel you are ahead of him, quickly set up and give a series of aggressive yelps with a call you haven't used yet. Many times this "fresh hen" tactic will prove successful.
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Like the fossilized skeletons of its ancestors displayed in the Smithsonian, a 12-foot alligator can be scary even when it's dead—something that Shooting Illustrated's Adam Heggenstaller learned in person during a gator hunt in Florida. Read More »
Could 2011 be the year of the work truck? If so, the Ram Tradesman is ready to clock in. Equipped with a juiced-up HEMI® engine.... Read More »
The year that Sumner, Mo., erected a statue of "Maxie" to commemorate being the "Wild Goose Capital of the World."
Maxie sports a 65-foot wingspan while resting on a cinderblock building in a community park.
The number of cackling subspecies.
The cackling goose, a smaller-bodied goose prominent in Canada and Alaska, is a tundra-breeder with considerably more black plumage than the Canada. At one time, the cackling goose was considered the smallest subspecies of the Canada, but is now recognized as a separate species.