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Hunt smart for late-season pheasants

December 12, 2010 by Paul Cashman

Now that it's later in the pheasant season and the birds are getting harder to find, there are a few things that can make your chances a lot better for bagging a bird. Here are a few tips for bagging late-season birds:

1. Scout right: Pheasant hunting is challenging enough when you know where the birds are, but scouting birds is one thing most hunters don't do. They think they can go into any marsh or corn field and there will just be pheasants waiting to fly. That's not necessarily true. Pheasants are most active around dawn and dusk, leaving their roosts to feed during the day and coming back to their roosts in the evening. The best way to scout pheasants is to get up early and watch a marsh or grassy field that has some sort of food source surrounding it. You will be able to watch the pheasants fly out of their roosts and see where they are feeding. At dusk you can see where birds fly back into their roosts. Dawn and dusk are also the time when pheasants typically make the most noise and are most active. If you are hunting without a dog this is a great tactic for getting close to these birds.

2. Be quiet: I have seen and heard way too many people thinking that pheasants don't get spooked by loud hunters and the slamming of car doors. These are the people who don't shoot many pheasants. When you pull up to your hunting spot and someone slams a car door or tailgate, you have just alerted all the roosters in the area that hunters are around. These birds will have already flushed or run before you even make it out of the driveway, especially if you are hunting heavily pressured areas like public land. Being as quiet as you can while walking is also important. If you are making a lot of noise, the birds hear you long before you get to them, and chances are they are already gone. Making as little noise as possible keeps the birds guessing at what is coming and will make them hold longer so you can get a closer shot.

3. Vary your hunting patterns: This is the most successful strategy that I have ever come across for hunting pheasants and it makes complete sense. If you enter the hunting area from the same place every single time you go there, or if every hunter enters the area from the same spot, the birds are going to start to understand that. I have found that if you are hunting the same area twice or are on public land where you know most of the hunters enter at the same place, you will shoot more birds if you change up your routine. The roosters in these areas become accustomed to hunters coming from the same direction so as soon as they hear people walking or the dogs running, they take off to their usual escape routes. If you come in from a different direction, you may be able to block the rooster's escape route and get a shot. This is especially helpful when you have hunted an area a few times and know where the escape routes are or where birds typically flush. In these situations you can come in from those directions and confuse the birds so they don't flush before you get to them.

4. Find water: Every animal needs water to survive and this includes birds. Whenever I am trying out a new pheasant hunting area, the first thing I do is look for some sort of water source. Whether it's an old creek bottom or a small pond, I almost always kick a rooster or two out of it. During the day is a great time to hunt pheasants near their water source, especially if it is warm. Once the birds have come back to their cover after feeding in the morning they will go to their water source to drink. Hunters can capitalize on this if they walk along the edges of creeks and ponds.

5. Think outside the box: This may sound like a strange tip for pheasant hunting but it is what I have found to be the best tip for later in the season. The pheasants that have survived all the hunting have grown smarter, which means they're more challenging to kill. These pheasants have encountered the same type of pressure all year long from hunters going after them in the same way, so you need to try something different. If there is that patch of thick brush in the marsh that you have never even tried to walk through, now is the time to go in there. If there is a deep part of the marsh that you always manage to flush pheasants toward, they are probably in there. At this time of year the roosters have grown wary and have moved to the thickest, hardest-to-reach places, which means that you have to go in there to get them. Some of these places may involve sending one of your friends to walk through and push the pheasants toward you, so it helps to have a few buddies around.

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