Hunting late season pheasants presents numerous challenges compared to hunting them over the opening weekend where the birds are plentiful and willing to flush within range. The pheasants have been educated due to hunting pressure and are keen to pick up on the habits of most hunters. The birds have adapted making success much more difficult. However, there are a few tricks that a hunter can do during the late season to put some roosters on the ground.
Joining me on this Thanksgiving Day weekend hunt was my future father-in-law DeWayne, his son Troy and family friend Mark along with his chocolate lab Gunnar and his new puppy – Rocko. The plan was to hunt our land near St. James that has been successfully managed for pheasants. It’s basically 70 acres with a small waterway flowing through it surrounded by agricultural crops (corn and beans). DeWayne has done a tremendous job creating a pheasant habitat paradise. Two years ago he planted several acres of native species of grasses with the help of the DNR and the results are amazing. Thick cover exists everywhere and it’s only going to get better. Tina and I recently became co-owners of this property and it’s a great feeling to be hunting your own land.
Over the course of the pheasant hunting season, many changes occur in regard to available food sources, habitat and hunting pressure. One needs to stop and think about these variables as they plan their late season hunt. The birds aren’t doing the same thing as they were during the opening weekend. They’ve changed their daily patterns quite a bit and you need to as well. Yeah, it’s always best to find new hunting areas where the birds have not been hunted but that may be a little unrealistic. However, you can change your approach. Most hunters go to the same hunting ground, park in the same place and drive the birds the same exact direction. Pressured pheasants will pick up on this and sometimes will leave the area as soon as they hear the car doors bang shut. One needs to mix it up a bit and maybe consider approaching the area from the opposite end. It might not be the most convenient for you, but it may pay big dividends. The birds are just not used to it and may hold a little tighter. Think about the wind direction as well when picking out a hunting parcel and hopefully it will coincide with your opposite end approach. Anticipate escape routes as well and if you can, place standers in strategic locations along the way preventing these early flushers from getting away.
Another tactic we’ve had success during the late season is to hunt towards each other. Obviously, one has to pay extra attention to safety and you need to know where your hunting partners are at. Hunting towards each other on a well executed drive can be very effective and you have an opportunity to shoot at each others birds that flush early.
Pressured roosters have also learned that staying put is sometimes the safest thing to do. Having a good dog during the late season is almost a must. Many times the birds will be in the thickest cover during the middle of the day and only a good dog can get them out of there. Take your time in these thick pockets of cover and let your dog work. Many times during our hunt we had birds flush out from behind us as we were just standing there. Sometimes slowing down and patience can work in your favor.
On one of our thick pocket pushes, we posted Troy at the end of the ravine. As soon as we started, birds started flushing out ahead of us and they were well out of our range. Shortly after, Troy started banging away. As we approached the last 200 yards, it was then that the skies lit up. Numerous hens with a few roosters mixed in literally started flushing from everywhere in all directions. When someone pulled the trigger, more birds got up! This went on for several minutes and all we did was take standing positions. By the time we were done, we had flushed over 25 birds in that little pocket of cover and downed several roosters. It was one of the best MN pheasant hunting scenes I have ever encountered – especially for late November!
Needless to say our 2.5 hour short hunt was a memorable one. It just wasn’t about the downed birds either. It was extra special being able to hunt with Tina’s family and friends on a piece of property that has been groomed ever so carefully into a pheasant hunting paradise. This took a lot of work and planning to create and I’m just grateful that Tina and I are now a part of it and can carry on the tradition.
Another added bonus was to watch the old pro “Gunnar” do his thing. It was great seeing him work the thick cover and when he got birdy it was just a matter of time until a pheasant would take flight. He also recovered every single rooster that we hit and some of those were in very thick cover. And then to cap it off – there was Rocko! The young pup was having a blast yesterday and showed high hopes for the future except when every time someone would yell “HEN!” he would sit down! It was absolutely hilarious!
As we head into December, conditions will change once again and snow will become a factor. Think about your approach to hunting late season pheasants and hopefully you’ll be able to adapt to the changing conditions and put some roosters in your vest.