There are very few things more thrilling to watch than a good bird dog working a wild rooster pheasant on opening weekend of bird season. Hunters from across the country have gathered to enjoy this tradition for years. Have you thought about becoming an upland pheasant or quail hunter but didn’t know where to start? All of us bird hunters often start our bird hunting careers at different stages. Mine was started hunting by myself, walking pockets next to fields that my dad was fixing fence on. No dog, just a trusty old 20 gauge and a goal of harvesting a bird. Whether a seasoned veteran or a new hunter I hope you enjoy these tips.
1. Know what Pheasant Habitat looks like
The very first question a beginning hunter should ask is: where are the birds?! As a biologist I would love to dig down and truly explain every bit of what it takes to produce wild birds for the hunting season. However, to bear you that expense, we will go with a shortened version of Nesting, Brood and Winter cover—all equally important when I look for good habitat! Nesting and brood cover are often the two cover types that I look for first. Is there a nice mix of grasses and forbs that pheasants and quail can nest in (nesting cover)? If they do hatch, do they have enough forbs that will produce insects for them to eat (brood cover)? Could the pheasants and quail survive the winter and make it to nesting (winter cover)? Heavy grasses such as Switchgrass can provide cover in those late winter storms. In Nebraska, often this is found in CRP, rangelands or areas not being farmed. Habitat with a mix of taller grasses and forbs (ie: Big Bluestem and Common Sunflowers) will get you a good start of being in the right areas for finding roosters this hunting season. Small grain fields such as wheat and milo can also be extremely productive to hunt.
2. Prepare for success
Wing shooting can be very difficult for lots of people. Practice shooting that shotgun! Whether it be at a trap range, or my preference of a sporting clay range, get familiar with shooting at different angles. Select the right size shot for that shotgun. While I prefer hunting pheasants with a 20 gauge, I shoot heavier loads such as 5 or 6 shot. When using steel, use a bigger size than you do for lead such as a 4 or 5 to be most effective.
3. Know your field size limit
Plan your field size by the number in your hunting party and the furry companions that you may or may not have with you. Without a dog, success may be found in smaller fields or on field edges where birds can’t run around you as easily. There’s no doubt that adding a furry friend will add to your success in the field. Only thing better than having a great dog is having a friend that has a great dog!
4. Hunt the cold
Some of my best bird hunting throughout the season is late season when it’s cold! As hunting pressure decreases birds tend to “hold” or not run as much providing a closer shot. While the temperature may delay those warm-day hunters, some of the most successful ones are those not afraid to brave the cold.
5. That one loud friend, “The Bruce”
In heavy pressured areas nothing can cause birds to head to private land quicker than slamming a door or talking loud prior to hunting. Take your time getting out of the vehicle, shut the doors quietly, gear up before arriving at the field you are going to hunt.
Every time in the field is a new adventure creating new memories. Although success can be difficult to attain “Always remember that worthy causes meet with the most resistance- even internal withholdings of support and loyalty. If victory is easily gained, you must reconsider the worthiness of your ambitions” –Attila The Hun
For more information, check out the Nebraska Upland Forecast.
Andy Houser grew up in Southwest Nebraska near the small town of Stockville. Being raised on the farm/ranch near there he always had a strong passion for the outdoors and wildlife. Andy graduated from Chadron State College with a B.S. in Rangeland Ecology and Wildlife Management in 2010. Andy started his career in the Fisheries Division, moved to Rangeland research and worked multiple years as a wildlife technician for the Nebraska Game and Parks before beginning with PF. He was hired by Pheasants Forever in May of 2010 as a Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist and is now the Senior Coordinating Biologist for the Southwest part of the state. He currently lives in Curtis with his wife Amy, daughters Harper and Hayden and German shorthairs Sadie and Poppy. In his free time he enjoys hunting, fishing, tending his cattle and a good game of golf.