According to a DNR wildlife research biologist, pheasants follow a schedule as routine as your daily commute to and from work. Understanding the pheasant's daily movements can increase your odds of flushing a rooster.
"Pheasants start their day before sunrise at roost sites, usually in areas of short- to medium-height grass or weeds, where they spend the night." That's the word from Dick Kimmel, research biologist at the DNR Farmland Wildlife Research and Populations Station at Madelia. Kimmel says that at first light, pheasants head for roadsides or similar areas where they can find gravel or grit.
Pheasants usually begin feeding around 8 a.m. When shooting hours begin an hour later, the birds are still feeding, often in grain fields while cautiously making their way toward safe cover. "Look for the edges of picked cornfields," says Kimmel, who regularly hunts southwestern Minnesota with his English setter, Banjo.
By mid-morning, pheasants have left the fields for the densest, thickest cover they can find, such as a standing corn, federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields, brush patches, wetlands, or native grasses. Kimmel says the birds will "hunker down here for the day until late afternoon."
It's next to impossible for small hunting groups of two to three hunters to work large fields of standing corn. Pheasants often run to avoid predators, a response that frustrates dogs and hunters working corn, soybean, and alfalfa fields. Groups of two or three hunters usually have better success working grass fields, field edges, or fencerows. Other likely spots during midday are ditch banks and deep into marshes. Remember: The nastier the weather, the deeper into cover the pheasant will go.
But eventually, pheasants have to eat again. During the late afternoon, the birds move from their loafing spots back to the feeding areas. As in the morning, birds now are easier to spot from a distance and are more accessible to hunters. "That's why the first and last shooting hours are consistently the best times to hunt pheasants," Kimmel adds.
Pheasant hunting doesn't require a lot of specialized or expensive equipment, but there are some basic items that will make your time in the field more enjoyable and productive.
- License/Hunting Regulations Handbook – The trail to good hunting starts with a knowing the rules, a license and pheasant stamp.
- Maps – Scouting an area will increase your odds of finding pheasants and good maps will help your efforts. Go to mndnr.gov for free maps that identify Wildlife Management Areas and Walk-In Access areas. Combined, these programs provide 1.3 million acres of public hunting on 1,550 parcels. A local plat book may also come in handy to identify specific pieces of land.
- Shotgun and shells – Bring along a shotgun that you have practiced with and are comfortable shooting. The style or gauge of the shotgun is not nearly as important as your proficiency with it. Since pheasants are fairly tough birds, you will want to choose a heavier load such as 4 or 5 shot and limit your shooting distances to 50 yards or less. This will result in fewer wounded birds. Also be aware that if you are hunting federal land, non-toxic shot is required.
- Blaze orange – Minnesota pheasant hunters are required to wear at least one visible article of clothing above the waist that is blaze orange. This could be a hat, jacket or hunting vest. Remember that more blaze orange will make you more visible to other hunters.
- Good boots – Pheasant hunting involves lots of walking on uneven terrain. Good quality, above-the-ankle boots will provide the comfort and support you need for a day in the field. Since crossing creeks and marshy areas is common, waterproof boots are preferred by many hunters.
- Layered clothing – Cool fall mornings often turn into sunny, warm afternoons. Layered clothing will prepare you for a variety of weather conditions. Long sleeves and gloves will help keep you from getting scratched up when moving through tall grass, cattails or woody cover. Hunting chaps or brush pants will protect your legs and keep you dry on mornings when the grass is wet.
- Eye & ear protection – Anytime you use a firearm, you should protect your eyes and ears. A pair of sunglasses and foam ear plugs will provide basic protection. More expensive options included coated, colored, high impact lenses and digital hearing aids that enhance some sounds while protecting from loud noises.
- A good dog – While a dog is not required to hunt pheasants, a good hunting dog will increase the number of opportunities you have to harvest birds and provide you with a companion in the field. A hunting dog is a year-round commitment. Be sure you are willing to invest significant time and energy before purchasing a dog.
- Refreshments – After a few hours in the field, you will need to refuel. Don?t forget water and snacks to keep you going through the day. Water your dog often and consider canine energy bars that are on the market.
Have fun, be safe and good luck hunting!