Flushing Pheasants in Heavy Cover

By: Jim Newcomb


My first experience with pheasant hunting was an unforgettable experience. I was hunting with friends in western Kansas in twenty-five degree weather. We were hunting "Corn Circles". Corn Circles a quarter section of land planted in corn and irrigated with a well in the center of the section. In each corner of the section grew thick clumps of Johnson grass over three feet tall. We had parked our trucks near one of the corners and were sitting on the tailgates waiting for the sunrise. When the sun did rise and proper shooting time was there, we let the dogs out and jumped off of the truck. Those dogs barely hit the ground and froze on point. I quickly looked down at the Johnson grass in complete surprise. The next thing I knew five Pheasants exploded out of that little patch of grass. Not a one of us had a gun loaded. We had been sitting by the tall grass on that tailgate talking and laughing for a good ten minutes. I had never seen any bird hold like that. I knew right away this was going to be a little harder than quail hunting.
I was educated quickly on just how crafty a foe I was facing. I prefer to hunt pheasants in the snow, say four to six inches deep. If there had been snow on the ground while hunting those corn circles, we could have seen fresh tracks and had some warning. I like the wind to be blowing pretty good when pheasant hunting. They get up into the wind and will hang just a bit before they really take off. Coldest weather I've ever hunted Pheasants in was about ten degrees in Martin, South Dakota. The wind felt like it could knock you over. That will make the hardiest of hunters whine a bit.
In that kind of weather the Pheasant are searching out what shelter they could find. They will borrow deep into the thickest, stickiest cover available. That's exactly where you go to find them. On such a day as described we were out hunting for some ring necks. We hit every thick clump of grass in the fields we saw and each of us limited out. Cold windy weather will put the chances in your favor to find pheasants. These birds can be found around thick grown up cover around old fence lines, structures, draws and fields that haven't been grazed for a while.
Some of the things you are going to need are permission to hunt the spots you find, good footwear, a good gun, and most important is a good dog. A good dog will not hesitate to root out Pheasants hidden deep in cover. We can't get where that dog goes, so you must have a lot of confidence in your dog. That dog is your mobile set of eyes and can make or break a Pheasant hunt. Brittany’s and Springer's do very well digesting that thick cover and finding the birds. The tougher the cover, the harder my Brittany will hunt. A hunter needs to find a dog that will be best suited for the type of terrain and conditions they hunt in. I had a Springer Spaniel that did well in cover. The Brittany and Springer complemented each other well. I like them because they are close range dogs and fit my style of hunting better.
A slow moving, thorough dog will do a better job hunting heavy cover. Some dogs range so wide and fast you are going to miss some early flushes. A fast rushing dog will be on the cover before you get your gun out of the truck. Fail the flush and the next thing you know that Pheasant is a mile away. They can really fly. A dog making a bunch of noise, rapidly plowing through thick cover will cause a lot of frustration for the hunter. A dog not so hyper that will point from six feet out is a more productive Pheasant dog. No matter the breed, a dog will always have a tougher time pointing in dry weather. I don't know how many time over the years during dry days the dogs covered an area and move on, only to have me walk by and flush a ring neck. Do your best to keep the dogs nose into the wind. Dogs will do their best in cold, high humidity weather with minimum wind. A light sprinkling of rain won't hurt.
While hunting a field, cover your thin ground first before you hunt the thick clumps of grass. Ring necks will more than likely run and head for the thick cover when you hunt the thin areas first. Hunt the center portion of a field first. Come back around and hunt the tree rows and fence rows.
My dogs are probably in better shape than I am when the season begins. I Put the tailgate of the truck down and attach a twenty five foot lead rope to the dog. Sitting on that tailgate, hanging onto the rope, while a fried drives down a quiet country road. Speeds of between five and eight miles an hour are recommended. It is important to keep an eye on your dog while doing this exercise, don't overdo it. I like to start exercising my dog thirty days before the start of the season. Your dog is going to cover much more ground in the field than you are. Keep a lot of water on hand and take a break if the dogs seem to be getting winded. High humidity days are just as tough on your dog as they are on you.
The rule of silence applies when hunting Pheasants. I don't know how many hunters I 'I've seen over the years complaining about not seeing any Pheasants. These same hunters go out and are constantly yelling at their dogs, talking between themselves and laughing loudly. These are the same hunters that get out of the truck and slam the doors and tailgate. It's as if they are telling the ring necks, "We're here and coming to get you". Those ring necks won't be there. Not only can Pheasants fly, they can really run. They are going to hear all the noise just like you and take off. The noises are not normal, which tells them danger is approaching. Being careless in such a manner will limit the amount of Pheasants you take home. A hunter with a close working dog who quietly slips in to a field to find ring necks buried in thick cover will have much more success than making all kinds of noise before the hunt starts.
Hunt land that is secluded or seldom visited by others, because it is a little more difficult to get to, has always provided very good results for me. There is a lot of public land for hunters use. The problems being so many hunters use it. Set your goals on getting permission to hunt private lands. I like to acquire access on private lands surrounding public lands. Heavy hunting of public lands forces ring necks back into the private lands for protection. It pays off to repair fence line or run a combine for a farmer. They learn to trust you, hopefully leading to permission to hunt on their private lands.

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