Pheasant hunting may be somewhat new to the States, but it is an honored and old practice throughout the remainder of the world. Its longevity in the human spirit should give you some indication of the sport's importance.
Unfortunately, the ringed neck pheasant is not found in all of the United States, but you would really miss out as an outdoorsman to never travel out west and enjoy the thrill of a pheasant hunt.
The thrill and enjoyment of hunting pheasant are different than hunting big game.
Pheasant hunting is unique because it brings its own challenges and rewards.
Being under the open sky with fields surrounding you for miles is a humbling and empowering feeling.
Next, envision a rooster bursting in front of you where you would never expect one to be.
Then, this bird shoots across the sky at speeds a bird that size should not be able to reach. You quickly shoulder your shotgun and take the shot. The bird goes down. Wow, what a rush. This makes it worth getting into the sport.
In this article, we want to take a look at the basics including the gear and the tactics.
We hope that it provides all of the necessary information for getting started in this interesting sport and even some tips for the more experienced pheasant hunters looking to gain more knowledge on these wonderful birds.
You might also be interested in quail hunting. The habitat is very similar as well as the required gear.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, where Trek Warrior makes a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Pheasant Hunting Gear
Like most Upland bird hunting, the equipment needed is not too extensive.
In theory, all that is needed is a reliable shotgun and some shells, and you will be good to go. In practice, there is gear, especially clothing, that makes hunting much more enjoyable.
Which Gun To Use
For hunting pheasant in the traditional, ethical way, the hunter needs a shotgun.
The most popular gauge is obviously the 12 gauge, but we have seen many excellent hunters succeed with 16 gauges and even a few 20 gauges. The 12 gauge is readily available.
We think the loads that can be used with it give you a much greater range of shots that can be taken to drop birds more quickly than the 20 gauge but to each his own.
The action of the gun also varies from hunter to hunter. Pumps, semi-autos, and double barrel guns are all popular in the pheasant fields. Though we do not advocate any particular style, we do believe that weight is an important factor to consider.
You are most likely going to be putting quite a few miles on the body when hunting. Reducing the weight of any piece of gear is going to help, especially near the end of the day.
Over-unders are generally lighter than others actions just because there are fewer machined parts involved. Over-unders are also popular in the sport because of the versatility you have with using two different choke patterns and even different loads.
In the end, all that matters is its reliability and your comfort while shooting and hauling it around with you all day.
If you spend a few minutes scanning the various opinion pieces or hunting forums, it becomes pretty obvious there is no unanimous choice for the best shotshell load for hunting pheasant.
The best way to choose your shotshell load is to have an understanding of how the birds are behaving in the field. Are they sitting tight and flushing close to you? If so, you might want to go with 7 ½- or 6-shot loads.
These loads have lower velocities to give you a few more pellets, but not enough force to ruin the meat.
If you are dealing with heavily hunted and wary birds that are flushing 40 yards or more ahead of you, you will want a much hotter load—one that can reach out such as a 5- or 4-shot load.
All of the above-mentioned loads are capable of dropping birds. They all have situations where they are more advantageous.
It is good practice to take these loads out to the range and check the patterns of each at different ranges to give you an idea of which loads will work for the bird's behavior in the field.
If you need to carry a lot of ammo for those longer hunts, get an ammo bag.
If you are shooting with a single barrel shotgun, we like modified or improved modified.
While you may want a pattern with a little more spread if birds are flushing close, we like the denser patterns and are confident enough in our shooting to use a tighter pattern.
It gives you a little more range. We think it drops birds cleaner. Modified is also a wide enough pattern for birds flushing right in front of you as well.
There might even be situations where the only shots you can get on birds is 50 plus yards. A full choke might be needed to reach out to those distances.
If you are hunting with an over-under, you can play around with the pattern density and match it more closely with how birds are acting on any particular day. This versatility makes a big difference in the number of birds you can harvest during a session.
Pheasant Hunting Clothing
With any hunting situation where you are around several hunters, you do want to be visible. Having a hat that is hunter's orange and a vest with some orange on it is always a good idea. Wearing hunter’s orange is mandatory in many states.
It is also recommended that you dress in layers. Depending on the season, those layer choices can change. Early season can have some hot days while late in the season you might experience freezing temperatures with snowfall.
Even in colder weather, after walking five miles, you might start to get a little warm. Having a good moisture wicking base layer with a couple of thermal layers allows you to regulate your temperature during the hunt.
A quality hunting vest makes your life a lot easier when away from the truck and out in the field.
It lets you comfortably store a lot of gear and provides an organized way to store your ammunition and be able to access it quickly.
A good pheasant vest should also have a large back compartment that will hold birds, and also have the ability to be cleaned easily without staining.
There are several options for bird hunting vests. You can find one that will be convenient for your personal hunting and storage preferences.
There is a lighter mesh vest for hunting in warmer conditions and more rugged vests that are great for hunting in thicker areas.
They vary by the amount of gear they can store as well as being compatible with hydration systems.
The options are near limitless. We recommend two great vests by Gamehide and Primos.
The Primos vest doesn't have an accessible back compartment, so you would also need a bird bag.
Pheasant terrain can sometimes get pretty thick and pretty thorny.
There are few things more annoying or more likely to end a hunt early then dealing with briars and burrs sticking out of your legs.
While durable everyday pants might provide protection, a pair of brush or briar pants is the way to go.
A good pair is as comfortable as your favorite pair of jeans.
The extra canvas layering protects from briars and allows you to pull through the thick stuff without issue.
The Carhartt double front utility pants are great and we highly recommend them. After you purchase, break them in before heading out to the field.
Over the course of a season or even just a few days hunt, you are going to be logging a lot of miles.
Uncomfortable feet are a sure way to ruin a hunt and be miserable.
It is tough to be aware and alert when your heels are covered in freshly opened blisters, are wet and freezing, or maybe a mixture of all the above.
Invest in a quality pair of hunting boots.
They should be light, durable, comfortable, somewhat insulating, and water resistant.
If you know when and where you are hunting the majority of the time, you can go for a pair of boots that work best in that area.
However, light and comfortable should always be a top priority.
We also recommend breaking your boots in well before heading out to the field. Just like a good pair of jeans, it takes some time to get them to form to your feet just right.
It will make a world of difference in the field and keep you from tiring quickly. Consider some Merino wool socks to help keep your feet dry to prevent blisters.
Pheasant Hunting Tips
The Right Terrain
The Ringneck pheasant is not indigenous to the United States, but it has made itself home in the Midwest and the Western United States.
Having a working knowledge of pheasant terrain will allow you to quickly scout an area and narrow down potential pheasant fields.
Pheasant love to roost in medium to high grass and weed fields that offer plenty of cover and protection through the night.
Pheasant can be found in standing and harvested crop fields throughout the day. The problem with these fields is that it is tough to get birds to flush as they tend to spot you quickly and simply put distance between them and you by running.
A dog in these scenarios is invaluable as they can freeze birds in these harvested fields and allow you to get in close enough to spot and hopefully get a shot.
And, of course, standing crop fields are nearly impossible to navigate, offer little to no shooting lanes, and provide a poor view of your fellow hunters.
Pheasant also love old and overgrown fields with natural grasses and weeds that provide cover and food.
Old fields that have drainage ditches, hedges, nearby marshes, woodland borders, and thick bush groves are all welcome signs for pheasants and should be hunted.
It is also important that you hunt in areas that have nearby sources of water.
The best chance of finding birds is in these old fields that border or are near crop fields. Pheasants love to roost in overgrown fields with lots of cover and move into crop fields to feed.
Pheasants can also be found in more lowland areas that border near marshes, but pheasant do not do well with the wet and soggy ground. What this type of terrain offers is protection from predators that are also hindered by wet ground.
Hunting more firm ground near these areas, specifically with cattails gives you an excellent chance to find birds.
The Right Time
Pheasants run a schedule like most animals—and they stick to it. First light is one of the best times to flush birds from roosting areas in overgrown and weedy fields.
Only after an hour or maybe two after first light, these birds are going to be in feeding fields, usually crops. Hitting the edges of these fields and transitions is perfect for mid-morning hunting.
As the season grows later and birds run into more hunting pressure, they seek heavier cover quickly after feeding. These areas are what we discussed in the previous section and take a team and hopefully a dog to hunt effectively.
The birds will hunker down in these fields until late afternoon. If you do not have a team and are hunting on your own, it might be a better strategy to hunt overgrown ditches and fencerows.
The birds will eventually move from their cover to feed once again before moving back to their roosting sites for the night.
Use a Dog
A bird dog that has been well trained in hunting pheasant is absolutely a blessing to have on your team when going after birds. They are so useful that after hunting with a good one, it is difficult to remember how you ever bagged pheasant without one.
The biggest benefit is that they are going to point out where a pheasant is holding and be able to freeze birds that would flush early or simply run away.
If you ever hunt without a dog, you can be in field where there does not seem to be much cover and bust a bird from a spot you had been staring at for five minutes and thought there is no way there is a bird there.
Not only that, but pheasant are hardy birds.
If you do not get a clean shot, they can hit the ground wounded and run hundreds of yards or hunker down and nearly be invisible to human eyes.
You do not want this situation for yourself and more importantly for the bird that is just going to suffer and eventually be coyote food that night.
A dog takes care of this problem. Our canine friends are invaluable in the field.
If you do not have the time and resources to own and train one, or are like me and only get to travel two weeks out of the year to hunt them, make friends with someone who does or splurge a little and hire a guide.
They will make the difference in your hunt.
Hunting pheasant efficiently and more successfully requires several hunters. It is one of the reasons many others and I love this type of hunting. It can be high action.
It is also a communal effort that leads to many lasting friendships. Having several hunters is even more critical when you are hunting without a dog, since you can cover a lot more ground. When you flush birds, there is a better chance at someone having a shot.
The best way to work a field is to have several hunters spanning across the width of the field. The distance between you will vary based on how many people are hunting, but you want at least 15 to 20 yards between you and the next hunter.
You also want to place two hunters a little further up at the end of either side of the line to keep the birds moving up the field and not fleeing into adjacent areas. Finally, place a couple of blockers at the end of the field.
This strategy keeps birds in the field and in front of you. As you work the birds up the field, hopefully flushing quite a few. Those that stick to the ground eventually run to the blockers where they have to flush. They get some high-octane action.
While moving through the field, it is important for hunters to not just walk in a straight line, but to have a zig-zag pattern. By maintaining your spacing, you are able to cover as much terrain as possible.
Another tip is to move slowly and in intervals of walking and stopping. This tactic has proven successful many times for my hunting party.
Walking and stopping tend to make the birds anxious. Countless times birds have busted while we are just standing with guns ready to go.
When you bust a couple of pheasant, especially if you are new to the sport, you are going to be amazed at how quickly these birds can get out of gun range.
If you do not work a field correctly, you will be even more amazed at their speed when they get a tailwind.
It is crucial that you use the wind to your advantage. This is true in the early season when birds are flushing all over the place.
It is equally important when chasing birds in the late season. Late in the season, they either flush fifty yards ahead of you or will not budge unless you step on them.
When pheasants flush, they tend to turn away from the wind to gain some extra speed, unless of course, the wind is blowing towards you.
The line of hunters with a crosswind is also a good spot to be in as it usually results in a rooster zipping down the line allowing a couple of shots by your hunting partners. It is action packed.
Even more fun is watching the reactions of the people who missed. With the wind pushing them, it is not an easy shot and takes some experience and marksmanship to learn how to get on and lead them correctly.
Gauge the Weather
This is especially important in late season hunting where the weather can turn cold and nasty. When temperatures drop, and you start getting a lot more snow on the ground, pheasants are going to seek much more dense cover.
You are going to have to nearly trip over them to get them in the air. You have to put yourself in the mind of the prey to understand pheasant behavior in these conditions
Pheasant hunting is rewarding to a hunter on many levels.
The landscape, the thrill of seeking and flushing birds, the camaraderie built between hunters, and the wonderful table fare pheasant provides are all part of the draw to the sport.
We will never be able to convey the feeling of taking shots at flushing pheasant adequately.
We hope that the information in this article provides the jumping off point for experiencing it first hand.
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