Locating Pheasants

“You couldn’t find your cock if it wasn’t attached.” The insult echoes in my ears as I follow my black lab across the South Dakota prairie. Minutes later we flush a rooster, which I destroy with my 12 gauge. Well, I proved you wrong papa.

Over the past few seasons I’ve killed birds in Iowa, South Dakota and Montana on both public and private land. This post lists a few tips for locating pheasants regardless of the state.

Where to Start: Online Scouting

State game departments publish field guides for pheasants, which include a range of maps and population estimates. From there hunters can start looking for public hunting access. I have a hard time scouting birds on google maps. Good habitat and mediocre habitat look virtually identical in satellite images. Even driving past grassy areas can trick a hunter into believing it will hold birds. Whether searching for land online or in-person, target crops, creeks and cover.

Crops, Creeks and Cover

To start, scan for creeks and drainages near crops (corn in Iowa, wheat and barley in Montana). Creeks will have taller grass than terraces or draws. Search for recently harvested fields. As the combine works it funnels pheasants into the nearest potential habitat. In Iowa, once the corn comes out hunting improves dramatically. Also, if only a few fields remain, the surrounding ditches and draws will hold birds. Even smaller grass waterways can produce.

I like to find the thickest cover I can feasibly hunt. Don’t skip an area because it feels too wet; I’ve killed a lot of birds in marshes. Cat tails and standing corn provide quality roosts, but I only hunt the edges. Both will cut up a dog and make it difficult to shoot or hear birds flush.

Driving Roads (Mornings and Evenings)

Game departments count pheasant populations on sunny mornings in August. The birds stand on the road to dry off from the dew. Roosters will do the same on sunny mornings in the fall and winter. You may see birds along field edges as well. Though Montana allows hunting to begin a half an hour before sunrise, South Dakota (10 am) and Iowa (8 am) do not. The evening can also produce as birds search for an area to roost. Roadside pheasants flush quickly. Use caution and check your state’s regulations on ditch hunting beforehand.

Opportunity Knocks

Get creative. Many waterfowl production areas and some refuges allow pheasant hunting. Private land surrounding public serves as a refuge for birds and has potential as well. Knock on some doors. Oftentimes ranchers don’t have time to hunt. When they do, most focus on hunting deer or elk. Even farmers that have given permission may have a neighbor that will say yes. Good luck, Stu

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