Not surprisingly, the Minnesota pheasant count was down this year. The terrible spring weather and the diminishing tracts of quality CRP both took their toll. However, reduced numbers does not mean a person should give up chasing roosters.
Over the years, I have learned an important fact about pheasant hunting. One does not have to shoot a limit of birds to have a memorable and successful hunt. In fact, some of my most memorable hunts ended up far short of a limit.
With that being said, there is nothing wrong with putting the odds in your favor as much as possible by hunting parcels that have serious potential. I believe that starts with quality habitat and access to food.
Quality cover for me, especially in the early season, is usually a mix of good CRP and some type of heavy cover. Cattails is often a good choice but I also find birds relating to thick brush made up of willows, dogwood and the like. This heavy cover becomes prime roosting spots for birds as well as protection from all sorts of predators, including hunters.
Many times we find that nervous birds will make a beeline for heavy cover. One of the areas we hunt has such thick willows that getting a shot at a bird in this habitat is impossible. Like any other place a person hunts, strategies need to be implemented.
Knowing it is impossible to get a clean target in brushy cover gives a person two options. One tactic we have used is to put blockers in front of the access to the brush. This forces the pheasants into another pathway or sometimes pushes them to flush.
The other strategy we use it to post the perimeter of the thickets and work the area with a dog or two. The hunter wandering through the tangle will not get any shooting, but those posted on the outside might.
As the season progresses, these pockets of thick cover become more appealing to birds. Finding a way to hunt them may be imperative.
Food is another important consideration when choosing a place to hunt. Since we often target public hunting areas, we choose ones that have corn or soybeans next to them. Of these two crops, corn is usually preferred by the pheasants.
Standing crops next to your chosen hunting field can present a problem. Birds will utilize these areas all day long and may spend little time in adjacent CRP or grassland. I’m not saying you can’t be successful hunting an area next to standing crops, it just better if they are harvested.
Pheasants do not like to travel far for their dining forays. The closer the food is to quality cover, the better your chances are going to be for bumping roosters. By checking the crops of harvested birds, it is easy to tell what they are feeding on. Hunt accordingly.
As for shooting limits, it is not necessary for me. If the dogs are putting up some birds and there is activity, even if its hens, I am going to enjoy my day.
When you are seeing and flushing birds, there is always the potential for good things to happen.