Ryan Callaghan, an Idaho and Montana hunter and Marketing Manager at First Lite, weighs in on the strategies and philosophies of pheasant hunting.
Know before you go. Some areas have multiple seasons; check your regulations. If you are hunting a new area, make sure you know the daily limit and possession limit. Does this area require nontoxic shot? Does your area require additional licensing above the upland game validation? Get familiar with your areas, new or old; go through the regulations every year.
Organize your gear. Most pheasant hunters have a dedicated game vest. Get one and keep it well stocked. Carry water and snack items for both you and your dog, a whistle, a multitool, a basic first-aid kit, and the appropriate ammo. I use only one load for pheasants so as to not complicate things. When I reach into my vest for a shell, I know what I’ll be grabbing out: B&P 16-gauge 1-ounce #6 lead. An exception to this rule is when I’m hunting an area that only permits nontoxic shot. In that case I shoot Winchester 23⁄4-inch #4 shot in 12 gauge. Find a load that works for you and stick with it; that consistency lends itself to more productive shooting.
Communication. Pheasant hunts are often a group activity that requires planning and communication, both for a successful hunt and for safety. If you are hunting with any new members or if you yourself are new to the group, be sure to establish whether everyone has been on a hunt before or even shot before. It is often a very tough
conversation to have on the edge of a field with roosters cackling over your shoulder, but believe me, everyone in your party will be grateful that someone spoke up and laid out both a game plan for the hunt and covered shooting lanes and safety. Don’t be afraid to initiate this conversation, especially if you have a dog in the mix.
I lay out a hierarchy as follows. If it’s your hunt—i.e., you have the spot, public or private—it is your job to get your group together prior to the hunt, whether that’s days or even weeks ahead of time. Figure things out down to the carpool situation, and if need be, make sure everyone knows not to slam the truck door. If it’s a common area you and your buddies have routinely hit, the hunters with the dogs have final say.
Wear blaze or hunter’s orange caps. When hunting in a group you can only move as fast as the next hunter in line. Keep an eye on each other both for safety and for success; you may see something that the hunter next to you did not. Or you may notice that the group is moving a little fast for an older, younger, or out-of-shape hunter. When people get tired, that’s when shotgun barrels start to wander; offer to put that hunter at a blocking position next time around.
Positions. I like to position first-time hunters on the wings or outside of the group. Sometimes these spots can have tougher shooting, but your first-time hunter will only have other hunters to the left or right, not on both sides. If the spot belongs to you, it’s advantageous for the entire group if the hunter with prior knowledge is in the middle directing the show. Rotate through positions if possible; if you were a blocker on the first swing, offer to walk the next.
Do not shoot birds on the ground. ‘Ground swatting,’ or shooting a rooster before he flies, seems like a great way to get some frustration out and get something in the bag. Beyond the fact that smacking a bird capable of 60 mph flight while it’s hunched in the grass is not considered sporting, pulling the trigger while the barrel of a gun is anything less than above level is a good way to kill a dog or make a hunter in the blocking position very uncomfortable.
Have fun. As we’ve covered, pheasant hunting involves people; if you discover that someone else has found your spot, move on to the next and swing back through later in the day. Don’t be afraid to ask other hunters how they are doing; on occasion they’ll let some good information slip.
This post was initially published as part of The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game: Small Game & Fowl by Steven Rinella.