Pheasant hunters use words like “wily” and “educated” to characterize ring-necked pheasants this time of year. Those are well-earned descriptors for roosters who have navigated fifty-some days of hunting pressure to survive in northern Pheasant Country states like Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota. Any longtails sticking out of your game vest as the calendar closes in on Christmas are testaments to your bird hunting moxie.
Plain and simple, there are less birds alive than earlier in the season and the ones still roaming your favorite hunting grounds aren’t likely to offer up any layup shots. You’re going to get less shots, those shots are going to be at a greater distance, and there won’t be many second chance opportunities. Consequently, here are five suggestions to help even the odds.
1) Take a Snow Day.
If you have any PTO remaining to convert before the calendar turns, be sure to submit your forms for days forecasted to receive a fresh morning snow flurry. There is no greater friend to the December pheasant hunter than two to four inches of fresh powder. Fresh snow automatically makes you a quieter hunter and provides fresh scenting conditions for your bird dog. Additionally, it’s been my experience that late season pheasants hold tighter the morning after a fresh snow.
2) Hit the Heavy Habitat.
As the temperatures spiral downward, pheasants head to “thermal” cover. Cattail sloughs, shelterbelts, wood groves, and willow thickets all fit this definition. However keep in mind, busting cattail sloughs covered in snow is heart attack-inducing hard work suitable only for the physically fit pheasant hunter.
This is my favorite tip, but the hardest to go out and tackle on a whim. I hunt a lot of federal Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs) throughout the pheasant season. As the name would indicate, these public land gems feature a lot of water in the form of wetlands, sloughs, streams, ditches, and the like. Many of these areas have islands of habitat not accessible during the early weeks of the pheasant season without a pair of hip waders. When I encounter these water barricades during the early days of the season, I make a mental note for a late season rendezvous. Generally speaking, these pheasant hunting El Dorados hold roosters that have escaped most of the harsh public lands pressure of other birds. In addition to your own boot leather scouting for these habitat islands, fire up Google’s satellite mapping tool on some WPAs to identify potential pheasant islands of your own.
4) Slow & Quiet.
Pretty straightforward reminder to not yell at your bird dog, don’t slam your truck door, and walk slow through heavy cover. December roosters are alive today because they’ve learned to avoid dogs, avoid flushing in front of a shotgun, and have successfully avoided others who came before you. Slow down and shut up. Even the “smartest” rooster in the field will lose patience . . . eventually.
5) Destination Kansas.
After a few years of drought and lower bird numbers, the Kansas pheasant survey indicated a 51 percent surge in pheasants this year. Add that eye-popping stat to their late November 14 opening day, a 48 percent increase in bobwhite quail numbers, and a late January 31 closing date and it’s apparent why northern snow bird hunters migrate to Kansas
to extend their season a month longer.
Admittedly, I prefer October days of 40 degrees, autumn colors, and hard holding roosters over my German shorthairs. That said, there is dramatic beauty in holding a fully-plumed ringneck in all its colorful glory under a flurry of December snow. Without doubt, late season roosters are true trophies.
is Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s Vice President of Marketing. Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre
and listen to Bob and Billy Hildebrand every Saturday morning on FAN Outdoors radio on KFAN FM100.3