The cackling of a rooster exploding from heavy cover. The ringing of a bell as the dog runs through a grassy field. The satisfying sound of a shotgun’s action closing. The scent of fall emanating from the uplands. These sensory experiences are all part of pheasant hunting, and what so many hunters in the Keystone State look forward to each fall.
Bob Boyd, the head of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Wildlife Services Division, is the manager of the pheasant propagation and stocking program. With five decades of pheasant hunting experience, he also enjoys the challenge of pursuing these birds on the same public lands that we all hunt.
Here are four of his top tips for a productive pheasant hunting experience:
1. Hunt Heavier Cover
Although they are often associated with fields and grasslands, pheasants are adapted to seek out thicker cover in wetlands, thickets, and swamps when trying to hide from danger. Whether hiding from a hawk or a human hunter, a pheasant will try hard to tuck into the thickest cover that is available. Most hunters, and their dogs, will thoroughly comb the open fields in their search for pheasants. In order to find more birds, you should consider checking out the heavier cover near these fields to find the pheasants that have escaped the early waves of predator pressure.
2. Work the Edges
Much like hunting heavy cover, the strategy of hunting the edges is all about understanding pheasants’ tendencies to prefer traveling in habitat that affords it the best protection from predators. Hedgerows, ditches, weedy fencelines and powerline cuts all make for excellent places for pheasants to evade pressure. Seek these places out and be creative in how you work through the habitat. Posting a stander or two at the end of a line of cover is a proven tactic for getting pheasants to flush rather than continuing to run.
3. Stop and Start
Speaking of running, a pheasant prefers to run, walk, creep or hide over being forced to fly. Flying is the last resort when all other options are eliminated. Hunters that walk steadily through cover are often passing right by birds that are hunkered down and hiding. The bird hears or sees exactly where you are and relies on stealth to remain undetected— sometimes evading even the best dogs’ noses. But if you practice stopping and starting your movement through cover, the birds will often get nervous and flush because they think you have spotted them. Many hunters learn this the hard way by stopping at the end of the field. With guns on their shoulder and statement of “I guess there were no birds here,” a nervous pheasant suddenly launches from vegetation nearby and flies away unharmed.
4. Keep A Hunting Log
If you are fortunate to get out and hunt multiple days throughout the season – after all, it does run more than four months – you could benefit from keeping a record of what you observe while afield. A simple hunting log where you keep notes (of the location hunted, number of birds observed, and number of other hunters seen afield) will be a valuable resource to consult when planning future hunts. The most important insight may be discovering what days the pheasants are typically stocked, by noticing the patterns in stocking timetables year to year. If you discover that the birds are stocked on your local game lands on a Wednesday during the first full week of the season, you may want to head out mid-week during the first week during the following season. The heaviest hunting pressure comes on Saturdays, with Fridays being the second-busiest days for hunter activity on stocked game lands. If your log is able to help you pinpoint a key time to be afield on a week day, you may well be rewarded for your efforts.
NEW Interactive 2018 Pheasant Allocation Map
Select a region to see the number of male and female pheasants to be stocked in each county for each release, as well as the range of dates for each release, and a listing of each property to be stocked.
Click on the interactive map of pheasant stocking locations to see the more than 200 properties that are planned to be stocked. Click on a pheasant icon to see the property name, the number of releases and total birds released last year to get an idea of large versus small release areas. Users can zoom in to see pink highlighted areas representing areas of best pheasant hunting habitat where birds are most likely to be found.
We wish all pheasant hunters a safe and successful season. With four-and-a-half months of hunting opportunity, more than two hundred stocking locations statewide, and nearly a quarter-million pheasants in the field, there are lots of great hunting memories waiting to be made.
Don’t forget, tag us in your pheasant hunting photos using #pheasanthuntpa!