A Beginners Guide To Finding More Birds This Fall
DuckBuckGoose - PHJ ProStaff - Cincinnati, OH
As with nearly all species we hunt, to be successful hunting pheasants you’ve got to understand their daily movements, habits and patterns. And despite what many novice upland hunters might think, pheasants do not just hold up in heavy cover all day — they actually move around throughout the day in order to fulfill their basic needs. What this means for the hunter is that cover areas that hold a lot of pheasants in the early morning hours, may hold few, if any in the afternoon. And if you want to be in the right place at the right time, you’ve got to understand these movements.
Pheasant patterns can vary by the type of habitat area they live in, by weather conditions and by “man-made” variables like farming or hunting pressure. That said, for the most part their daily patterns will remain fairly consistent in any given location. What this means is you CAN go scouting for this upland game bird like you do for waterfowl, deer and other quarry that you may choose to pursue.
A Day In The Life…
Shortly after the sun rises, a pheasant will walk or fly out of their roosting area and stop to pick up some gravel, while on their way to a feeding area. For this reason, you can often see pheasants along the roadsides early in the morning - since gravel is easy to find here and roads often act as an edge line bordering different types of cover. Scouting from the roadside in the early morning is a good way to understand where the birds are coming from (roosting) and where they are going (to feed).
After pheasants reach their feeding grounds (typically some sort of crop field), they will eat for a couple of hours and then move to a “loafing” area — which is often a grassy or brushy area near the crop field. In some cases they’ll return to their roosting cover at this time — depending on how far it is from their feeding area. In other cases they’ll stay in one area for feeding, loafing and even roosting - because it offers everything they need all in one spot. This can be the case in “dirty” or weedy crop fields, or roosting areas that contain seed bearing plants that provide and adequate food source for the birds.
Typically, an hour or two before sunset, pheasants will return to the feeding area (if they ever left it) to fill their bellies before returning to their roosting cover for the night.
Prime Pheasant Habitat: When hunting pheasants, there are several different types of cover that are good to hunt and are likely to hold birds if you have them in your area. Here are a few of the more common ones:
- Cattail Marshes provide prime escape cover and winter cover. The rigid structure of the cattails allows Pheasants to burrow-in during heavy snow. They also make it easy for Pheasants to hear predators, which might be approaching.
- Wetland Fringe Areas. Because the fringes of wetland areas are usually too wet to be plowed, they are left alone and tall grasses grow. This makes for good roosting and nesting cover for pheasants.
- Dirty Corn Fields containing weeds and spilled corn can be good places to find pheasants. Sometimes they’ll stay in these areas all day, if they provide enough food and cover.
- Stream Corridors. Because these are typically low-lying flood plain land and are rarely plowed and planted, thick grass and brush is allowed to grow which provides permanent cover.
- A Drainage Ditch will hold pheasants and may be the only cover available in some of today’s intensely farmed areas. Look for pheasants to be loafing or roosting in spots that are out of the wind along the slopes of these ditches.
- Roadside Ditches that are not frequently mowed or maintained provide good pheasant cover. Ditches that collect and contain water and grow cattails can provide good winter cover, as cattails allow pheasants to burrow in and survive in heavy snow.
- Railroad Line Buffers are often allowed to grow into brushy cover that makes good pheasant habitat. Abandoned railroad buffer zones can make for some spectacular hunting.
- Abandoned Barns & Farmsteads can be a great place to hunt all kinds of game. For pheasant, they offer good cover. The old barns and building break the wind and tall grasses tend to grow in the more open areas — providing protection from predators.
- Fence Lines, especially brushy or grassy ones with wide buffer strips, trees, and bushes make prime pheasant cover.
- Grassy Terraces and Filter Strips, created to reduce crop erosion, make good roosting and loafing sites next to feeding areas.
- Retired Crop Fields, that grow up to grassy cover are prime nesting areas. Unlike other types of fields like hay fields; these will not be mown during the season.
- Grassy Fringe Areas of crop fields make good loafing sites in mid-day and even roosting sites if the grass is tall enough.
The Bigger Picture…
Now that we know more about where to find birds on a local habitat level, let’s quickly discuss how to increase your odds of success by taking a bigger picture view.
The unfortunate fact is, with the efficiency of modern farming methods upland game cover is becoming harder and harder to find in many states. In Ohio, where I live, the pheasant population is certainly not what it used to be - as farmers have been plowing their land right to the edges and pulling out fencerows or other cover that previously held birds. Population sprawl and development of farmlands is another factor for pheasant population decline.
But there is good news. There are several states that still have areas with high pheasant population densities. Although you might have to take a road trip to hunt one of them, our great country still has several regions where limits of pheasants are just waiting to be taken. If you want to increase your odds of getting on birds, do a little research and plan accordingly.
Pheasants Forever is a leading habitat conservation organization dedicated to the conservation of pheasants, quail and other wildlife through habitat improvements, public awareness, education and land management policies and programs. Each year they publish a handy Pheasant Population Forecast. This forecast will give you the bigger picture view of which states have the highest pheasant populations, and where hunters harvest the most birds.
Most states fish & game departments also do population counts each summer on a regional basis. Seeking out this information can also help you identify the best regions in each state for finding birds. As an example, you can see Iowa’s 2007 Pheasant Population Survey Results here.
For a complete listing of State D.N.R. / Fish & Game departments click here. Many of them will help you identify the best regions of the state to hunt, and could help you harvest more birds than ever this fall.
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