By Joe Glotts
One of the most rewarding aspects of pheasant hunting is that there really isn’t a lot of gear to worry about acquiring – no scent protection, goofy battery powered contraptions, sprays or decoys. It is just a hunter, a gun, a good dog if you’re lucky and a contest of wits. Of course, there are a few things that will make your hunt more successful and enjoyable. Here is a good list of must haves and add-ons for pheasant hunting.
The best way to avoid a potential citation is to know the rules. Ignorance is no defense. 99.9% of hunters are not going to willfully violate a game law. Most violations are mistakes and most of those mistakes are made because a hunter was unaware they were breaking a law. A conservation officer is obligated to uphold the law whether the violation was a mistake or not. Having regulations with you and reading them before going hunting is a big step in preventing a citation. Common pheasant hunting citations are hunting after hours and over-bagging. Study hunting hours and bag limits for the state that you will be hunting in before going to the field.
Maps are definitely a must and can help you pinpoint good hunting areas long before the season starts. You can access hunting maps through most state wildlife agency websites. Even if you’re hunting private land, a look at an aerial map from sites such as Google Earth can give you an edge. Plat books are also handy. Knowing a landowner’s name and phone number can be a big step in getting private land access.
Most pheasant hunters prefer a 12 gauge shotgun, but many use a 16 or 20 gauge, especially youth hunters and ladies. An auto-loader is my choice when hitting the field, but over-and-unders and pumps down just as many birds and the latter can definitely shave a few hundred dollars off of the price tag. Remember, by the time most hunters get to a third shot, the bird is out of range anyway. The most important thing is to be comfortable shooting your gun of choice.
Pheasants are hearty birds. I often see new hunters come into the field with target loads that just aren’t going to get the job done on most pheasants. High brass shells loaded with #4 or #5 shot is best. Don’t be afraid to spend a little extra on quality shells. The daily bag limit in most states is two or three birds. Even if you limit out four or five days during the season, you probably won’t use more than a couple of boxes of shells, total. With all the money invested in guns, gas and everything else, an extra five bucks on better quality shells is a good investment at the point of impact. Lead shot is still the most popular type among pheasant hunters but remember, Federal Lands (all Waterfowl Production Areas) and many state properties now require non-toxic shot.
Most states require at least one article of clothing above the waist to be blaze orange. Your head is usually the first thing to be seen by other hunters and probably should be covered with a blaze orange cap. If you’re walking a river bottom or cresting a hill, your head could be the only thing another hunting group will see. However, some hunters like the idea of wearing a classic oil skin cap or cowboy hat. If you’re willing to accept the risk, wear what you like. A blaze orange hunting vest is an inexpensive garment that every pheasant hunter should have. On warm days, you can wear a t-shirt underneath it. On cold days, layer a jacket under the vest. When it comes to pants, go rugged. Chasing pheasants will take you into some of the nastiest habitat on earth. Prickers, burrs and thorns are common. Rawhide chaps are popular, but if you’re on a budget, heavyweight jeans will do just fine. A pair of high quality leather shooting gloves will protect your hands from getting scratched up.
Pheasant hunting involves walking, a lot of walking. I recommend buying high quality, above-the-ankle boots. Upgraded insoles are also a good investment. Deer hunters often buy boots with high Thinsulate ratings. Insulation usually isn’t an issue for pheasant hunters. Constant movement is enough to keep your feet warm. However, waterproof boots are a good investment. Pheasant cover is often marshy and it is no fun hunting with wet feet.
Any time you fire a gun, you should be wearing eye protection. Malfunctions can be catastrophic, but even a simple misfire can send powder into your face and eyes. Hunters can also suffer a scratched eye due to thorns or berry bushes. If you’re hunting into the sun, a pair of sunglasses really help cut down the glare. Yellow or orange glasses improve contrast. Hearing protection is also recommended. Simple foam earplugs can be purchased for under a dollar at most sporting goods stores.
Drinks & Snacks
Pheasant hunting isn’t a sedentary activity. You’re going to burn significant energy while in the field. Bring along water or sports drinks. High quality food sources such as bananas and apples are also great for the hunt. If you’re hunting with a dog, don’t forget to bring some water for him as well. I wouldn’t feed a dog a meal immediately before or during the hunt. However, water and a small snack once in a while will keep him hunting hard, just like you.
A dog isn’t required, but will make finding live and downed birds much easier. Common pheasant hunting dogs are German Shorthairs, English Pointers, Weimaraners, Spaniels and Labrador Retrievers. But just about any dog can be an asset in the field if they have basic obedience training and don’t range out too far. A friend of mine hunts pheasants with a mutt that doesn’t look anything like a typical bird dog. Keep in mind you will get what you put into a dog. If you haven’t put a lot of effort into training your dog for the hunt, don’t expect a lot out the dog. Spending your day yelling at the dog isn’t going to be fun for anyone. If the dog is a novice, leave him home or be willing to accept mistakes.
Of course, South Dakota is number one on this list, with North Dakota, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota and Nebraska also holding good numbers of birds. Montana and parts of Idaho out west also produce pretty good numbers of birds in certain areas and of course, most states in the country offer outfitters and lodges with preserve status. Check out each states’ regulations and public hunting zones when searching for possible areas to hunt. It may take a couple of trips to an area to find the best opportunities available. Don’t be afraid to knock on a few doors to ask for permission to hunt their land. Even if they require a daily fee to hunt, it can be well worth the cost and can cut down on your daily travel and a lot of miles on your hunting boots at times.
Lodges and Outfitters
As in any situation, there is always the choice of looking into visiting a lodge, complete with accommodations, meals, guides, dogs and much more in some cases. Now it all comes down to what you can and want to afford, as you will find a normal three or four day, all-inclusive stay, can range from $1,000 to $5,000 and more, but again, it all comes down to what you are looking for and how much you are willing to spend. Some ranchers, turned part-time outfitters, offer very affordable day hunts, including guides and dogs for as little as $150 a day, per person – again, not bad if the birds are there and it can cut down on wearing out your feet and wasted travel time.
Upland bird hunting is truly one of the most exhilarating forms of hunting available and the cackle of a beautiful ringneck pheasant is at the pinnacle in by book. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune to have a great time and a successful hunt. Do some planning, make a few calls to state wildlife agencies and don’t be afraid to call a few outfitters in the area you plan to visit and then make your decisions based on your intel. I guarantee you will find you can do it on a lot less than you had thought was possible.