Riege: Marshalling in Opening Day Pheasant Hunt

Published 7:08 pm Wednesday, October 3, 2012

By Bob & Ginny Riege

Have you stepped back in time? Or are you watching some movie that has come out of the 1950’s? The answer to your questions is summed up in two words: Western Minnesota

Throughout Western Minnesota there are places that hold pheasants in huntible numbers. There are private lands with scattered potholes and sloughs or woody draws that provide good places to hunt. Public lands, whether game production areas managed by the state or federal waterfowl production areas, are also excellent spots for hunters to look for a few roosters. Specifically this year we will be hunting in Marshall, Minn. at the 2nd Annual Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener.

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Hunt where the cover is the best. This means usually close to a food source and water. Often the best weeds lie along fringes. Next to fence lines and irrigation ditches, shelterbelts, railway sidings and road ditches. The key elements here are food proximity and dense cover. A pheasant needs a variety of cover in order to survive. The pheasant needs overhead cover in the daylight hours and needs roosting cover (off the ground) and dense cover for warmth, during the night. If this cover is adjacent to a food source, such as corn, watch out, this is where you’ll find them. If you want to increase your chances, hunt these areas in the morning and in the late afternoon. That’s when most of the birds are the most active and when they are in huntible cover.

In Western Minnesota, the weather is usually nice until mid-November, so pheasants have no reason to seek the shelter of heavy cover. They can be found anywhere. A patch of grass around a dam, in the middle of a plowed field, or a few cedar trees on a grassy hillside, are all it takes to hold roosters.

In the middle-season the birds are where most hunters would expect them. The thicker, deeper and more tangled the vegetation, the better the pheasants like it. Pheasants love trees because they break the wind and are often an essential ingredient of late season pheasant cover. In treeless areas, birds gather in cattail sloughs or brush draws in the vicinity of food. In this thick cover, a dog is a great help.

Hunt with a good dog. I know that I thank my lucky stars the day that I pick-up our Irish Setters, Laddy and Brandi. No other single measure will do as much to improve your hunting. Dogs are extremely important for finding, flushing and retrieval of game. Pick a dog that will work well in a variety of cover and can be controlled. Training is at least as important as selection of the breed. A properly trained dog will hunt enthusiastically and be under control. During your dogs training, try controlling him with hand signals, avoid whistles, and voice commands. Try moving slowly and quietly with your hunting companions through the fields. All that smart rooster has to hear is the sound of the slam of a car door and the sound of a couple of hunters, with whistles and bells on the dogs to take flight into the next county.

With the shift in habitat in the last twenty years the modern day pheasant hunter must shift also. One shift is to hunt in the smallest party that can effectively comb the cover. The large field covering parties of twenty years ago have gone with the habitat. The habitat dictates the size and shape of the party. Besides, hunting with a smaller party allows everyone to take part in the hunt, not to mention the safety factors and concerns in larger parties. With less habitat start looking for ways to drive the pheasants out in the open instead of toward dense cover. Use the habitat as a blocker, look for funneled down areas that will force the rooster to take flight rather than sneak away to another field.

Understand the effects of pressure, not only hunting but barometric pressure. When the hunting gets tough, where do the pheasants all head for? Look around; is there an area that has not been harvested? Is there an area that has been posted? Can you talk to the landowner and get permission to hunt the non-pressured area? Try some kindness, don’t hesitate to offer some help around the farm for hunting privileges, or barter some food for allowing you to hunt on those lands that few get on. Above all, please ask permission before entering land owned by another, not only is it a law, but it is good common courtesy.

Barometric pressure is a very important factor to consider when the weather is the worst; pheasant hunting is the best. Rainy days and roosters go hand-in-hand. When you would like to be home in bed or curled up by the fire so would the pheasants. You will find them at home, dense cover, away from the elements and they are prime for harvesting. A rule of thumb is, when the pressure is low pheasant hunting is high.

With these easy to remember tips you can adapt to the change of habitat and increase the chance for bagging your limit. Pheasant hunting is work and yet it is very enjoyable. You will have to work at it to improve the skills that it takes to make a modern day pheasant hunter. The best of luck to you marshalling in another opening day of pheasant hunting.