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.
Teamwork in the Dove Field
Find the Local Buffet
Noting dove food choices available in your area pays dividends when scouting fields. Freshly harvested grains like corn, wheat and millet are always top choices. Seeds of sunflower, safflower, sesame and smartweed also rate high. If grains and seeds aren't present look for freshly harvested hay fields with clover, alfalfa or lespedeza, or cattle feed lots. Pond banks provide fine grit doves use to fulfill digestive needs after feeding.
Doves travel to and from roosting sites to feed and water, so note the direction they fly when entering and exiting the field. Tree lines, waterways, roadways and utility lines—all are common flyways. Position hunters to take advantage of them.
Pick a Stand
Any stand that allows hunters to intercept birds as they enter/exit a field will see plenty of action, but shooters on the perimeter have the advantage. Shooters inside the field must settle for birds that have "flown the gauntlet" (frightened birds test the best shooting skills). Pick a stand as close as possible to two factors—water/feed, roosting site/flyway entrance, etc.
Depending on the size of the field, it could take several dozen hunters to keep the doves flying. Most shooting is conducted just outside the range of another hunter. Doves often swoop downward and become low-flying targets. Avoid shooting at low flyers. It's wise to wear not only ear but eye protection because pellets sent up must come down.
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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.