How to help your hunt go smoothly in crowded areas
By Keng Yang
“Stop recruiting new hunters.”
“Public land is overcrowded.”
“I can’t find a place to hunt in peace.”
All of these are true yes, but only for opening weekend. If you aren’t already following along with Pheasant Forever’s Upland Hunting Tactics, I suggest you check that out first as it provides great insight into scouting and planning your hunt. I’m here to talk about tactics for opening weekend in particular, and the things you can do to help your hunt go smoothly in crowded hunting areas. Let me help you, a new hunter, navigate your first opener.
Early bird gets the worm. When hunting on public land, it is respectful to not enter a field where someone is already parked and waiting to hunt. This means you must be the first person at your spot. On opener you should plan to be at your spot three hours before you can shoot. Here in Minnesota, shooting time starts at 9:00 am. I’m usually on the road by 1:00am and parked in the field by 5:00am. This sounds excessive, but for opener it’s a sure way to secure your spot. Now that you have your spot secured and are waiting for shooting time, expect someone to come hunt the same field as you. I get it, I told you not to hunt an occupied field, but others may choose to ignore this unspoken rule. They may park on the other side of the field, knowing you are already there, or they may even park right next to you.
If another hunter comes and parks next to you, let them know where you plan to go. As the first person there, be confident in letting the other hunter know which direction you’ll be hunting, or maybe ask if you two would like to hunt together. Now if they park on the other end of the field, you’ll need to get all geared up and ready to walk right at 9:00 am. Walk fast and follow your dog, be mindful of the other hunting party, but try and get to the areas of thick cover or productive spots in that field first. It’s always a foot race on opener if someone decides to hunt the same field.
As a new hunter, you may not bump into as many birds as an experienced hunter. If the field you are hunting has another hunting party, listen to see how many shots they take, if you hear a lot of shooting, it’s a good sign that there are plenty of birds in that field. I would walk the field over again after the other hunting party has left or stay there to hunt the evening. As it is opener, all birds are confused, pushed around and reluctant to leave good habitat.
Lastly, prepare to hunt all day. A lot of hunters tend to hunt in the morning till 11:00am, take an afternoon break, then return in the evening usually two hours before shooting time closes. As a new hunter, use this “break” time to explore and continue hunting. Maybe someone beat you to a field in the morning. Well, I would go hunt that field again if no one is there, especially on opener. Birds will still be there. Not only do you get a great workout for the day, but you learn about fields you hunt, remember where you bump birds, especially a covey of birds. More than likely the birds will be in that spot again another day.
It may be overwhelming as a new hunter to experience your first pheasant opener. There are a lot of people, birds may be difficult to find and you may feel afraid of overstepping other hunters. To ease your mind, just remember every hunt is a learning experience and mistakes will be made. I tell everyone that opener is the best time to hunt, and your best chances of bagging a bird.
Keng Yang is an adult-onset hunter, mentor, Pheasants Forever member, and diehard upland bird hunter. Follow him on TikTok @minnesotahunter and on Instagram @kengyang1.
As part of our mission, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever work hard to recruit, retain, and reactivate (R3) new hunters that will become tomorrow’s conservationists. But getting started in upland bird hunting presents a unique set of questions and challenges. Our Path to the Uplands initiatives and Hunter Mentor Pledge create educational and hands-on opportunities for both mentors and mentees to share our beloved outdoors lifestyle and learn about our conservation ethic.
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