Opinion: Tips for pheasant huntersOur regular South Dakota pheasant season opens Saturday. With more than 50 years of ringneck hunting and 1,000-plus roosters behind me, I definitely have some thoughts on the subject. I’ll put my most important notion first. When you flush a raucous rooster from under your feet, it’s totally unnerving. Take a second, regain your composure and check the background before you squeeze that trigger. I always say a little prayer before I step into that first field. Nothing could be worse than accidently shooting a companion. May I never forget it’s possible so long as I have a gun in my hands.
By: Roger Wiltz, The Daily Republic
Our regular South Dakota pheasant season opens Saturday. With more than 50 years of ringneck hunting and 1,000-plus roosters behind me, I definitely have some thoughts on the subject.
I’ll put my most important notion first. When you flush a raucous rooster from under your feet, it’s totally unnerving. Take a second, regain your composure and check the background before you squeeze that trigger. I always say a little prayer before I step into that first field. Nothing could be worse than accidently shooting a companion. May I never forget it’s possible so long as I have a gun in my hands.
As you cross a field in a forward-moving column, you are, in effect, concentrating the birds as you go. Ninety-five percent will flush, but a straggler or two will hold tight. As you approach the end of the field, take an extra minute and kick around every bit of cover all the way to the fence line. This practice pays huge dividends.
Regarding that field you friends are driving on foot, stop on occasion for five to 10 seconds. This can make a wily bird crack. Don’t go too fast. Zig and zag. If you go on a straight line, the birds will get a bearing on your path and hold while you’re passing. You’ll get a feeling for exactly what I’m talking about as you gain experience.
You’ll see lots of young birds this year that are difficult to identify as males. Young roosters can’t cackle, but they might “peep.” Listen carefully. Hens don’t peep. You’ll amaze your peers when you show them that the young bird in your hand is a rooster.
So you’re an end of the field blocker this time. First and foremost, wear protective glasses. Now, when that high flyer zooms over, swing onto him and then ahead of him in one motion. If you stop swinging before you pull the trigger, you’ll always be behind him. Squeeze the trigger while you’re swinging ahead of the bird, and he’s likely to make a spectacular fall from the sky. How far ahead do you lead him? It took me 35 years to figure that out.
Save your #4 and #5 shot for later in the season, and go with #6’s or #7-1/2’s on opening weekend. Pheasants are big, tough birds. Use high brass ammo, and if you shoot a 12 gauge, use a 3-3/4 dram equivalent load, not the 3-1/4 variety. Save that full choke for late in the season and go with improved cylinder or modified Saturday.
When your group surrounds a choice bit of cover like a slough, know that the birds will immediately figure out where your line is the weakest and go for it as their escape route. Give this consideration, although there isn’t much you can do without numbers. Oh yes, don’t get run over by a deer.
Would you kill a chicken and then throw him in the trunk and drive around all day without first removing his entrails? No way! Then why do it with pheasants? Take the time to field dress them before you go to that next location. Acids and digestive fluids can — and do — permeate the meat if you allow it to happen.
Bonuses in the form of Hungarian partridge, sharptail grouse and prairie chickens occasionally present themselves. Are you going to be ready, or are you going to say, “What was that?”
Unfortunately, this is also true of skunks.
No matter how you arrange your ranks, some of you will get seven or eight birds while others are lucky to get a good shot. When I’ve had good shooting, I like to tell those beside me that if a bird gets up between us, I’m not going to shoot. The bird is theirs. This means a lot to someone who has traveled hundreds of miles to bag a few roosters.
Never be bashful about asking a novice to be careful where he/she is pointing their shotgun. It could later prevent a disaster.
When you spot a patch of cover surrounded by open ground, perhaps a grown-over rock pile, take the time to walk over and kick around in it. These extra efforts pay handsomely. It’s almost always a rooster. Don’t lose faith just because it doesn’t yield a bird the first few times.
Pheasants roost for the night in sloughs, cattails, trees, etc. If unmolested, they head for this cover in the late afternoon. Keeping this in mind, formulate a plan of attack and match the cover to the time of day. Good pheasant hunting parties generally have good captains who have already considered this.
If you are lucky enough to have some good dogs along, make certain that they get water after each good workout. On an unusually warm opener a few years ago, many dogs perished. It could have been prevented.
Sooner or later, a bird is going to keep flying like he was never touched. Keep an eye on him. If he begins to gain altitude, flutters like a helicopter, and then falls to the earth from a great height, he’s dead. Get some cross bearings on him and go pick him up. He might be 200 yards away.
I’ve been around the block a few times when it comes to pheasants. I hope some of these ideas help. Have a good one, and I’ll see you next week.