The Path to Late Season Pheasant Hunting Success

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Habitat, mindset and mechanics: How to shoot a wary wintertime rooster

By Tom Carpenter
The birds are all shot out. There are no roosters left. Any wary roosters remaining are impossible to get up on. It’s too cold. The snow is too crunchy and loud. The wind is blowing too strong. 

There is no end to the excuses one can conjure up to stay home and not hunt late-season pheasants. But there is one reason to yes get out and hunt: When pheasant season nears its close, every rooster brought to bag is the next trophy-topper of the season, and you aren’t going to shoot it from the couch.

So how do you do it: How do you shoot a wary wintertime rooster? 

First, you have to find him.
 

HABITAT

Everything you need to know about finding late-season pheasants on the landscape, I can tell you in 2 sentences. They are important, but they are not rocket science. 

1 Hellholes
Assuming (and we are) that the weather is cold, inclement, both (or more!), hunt in heavy cover. This means cattails, woody cover (willow grass, plum thickets, shrub tangles, you name it), heavy stiff-stemmed grass standing up to any snow … anything offering pheasants shelter and not fun for you to walk in or even shoot from … as I like to fashion them, hellholes.

2 Food
There needs to be a food source nearby such as corn, soybean, wheat or other grain stubble, or even plowed ground, such that maybe birds can walk there to forage, but flying there and back is an option.

That’s the “easy” part. More important to finding late-season pheasant success are the Mindset you carry and the Mechanics you bring to the hunt.
 

MINDSET

Don’t succumb to the “birds are all shot out” and “they are so wild I will never get one” mentality. It’s pheasant season. There ARE still roosters out there. You will only get one if you are out hunting. It is that simple. Think:

1 Effort and Miles
One bird will make a mistake … but only if my dog and I are out there, walking and working, to let it. Yes these birds are tough to get, but EFFORT and MILES produce. Really. 

2 One Bird
Consider this idea: I do not expect or need a limit. I shall goal for ONE BIRD and then take it from there.

3 Take Joy
A mindset: I am HAPPY just to be out hunting. It’s better than dreaming of hunting or waiting for next year, and the dog is getting good work.
 

MECHANICS

I have hunted pheasants in the season’s waning weeks across the pheasant range for almost five decades now. It’s not rocket science. It is hard work. It is a challenge. It is, in a demonic way, fun. 

Consider these three simple ideas for conducting the hunt.

1 Hunt Slow
I could write a book on why to hunt slow, or I could tell you this: Roosters run, but they run less when conditions are crappy. Doubling back, lurking and hiding and letting you pass are common evasion tactics pheasants use now. You won’t get the runners anyway. SLOW makes the birds nervous, and lets your dog work. You should … Mosey. Crawl. Linger. Inch. Creep. Slink. Skulk.

2 Keep Them Guessing
Keep the birds GUESSING and make SIDE TRIPS to good-looking little hidey holes. I have about 20 verbs to share here, but the bottom line is, never walk a straight line. You should … Zig. Zag. Meander. Wander. Hesitate. Loop. Linger. Pause. Check.

3 Hunt Back Through
If you think there were birds there, hunt back through. Weave a different route perhaps. Runners survive, but so do the hiders and sitters you pass by, and boy are those birds surprised when you come back at ‘em: Crap (says the bird), cackle, BOOM! I shoot multiple late-season birds each year in cover I just hunted.

Give me one late season warrior of a rooster over an early season limit, for a memory that stays with you forever. Get out there, just hunt, and good luck on your path to late season pheasant hunting success.



Tom Carpenter, assisted by Lark, is editor at Pheasants Forever. Some people say he actually likes cattails.