By Nick Simonson
It seems to happen all the time once firearms deer season opens; a hunter sitting on stand sees countless pheasants flushing in a grassy field the next section over or a walking group puts up dozens of birds without a dog and armed only with their rifles. It’s a case of right time, wrong weapon. When deer season wraps however, those birds will still be there, and there are a few little things to take from the firearms deer season that can be added to late season bird hunting tactics to increase the odds of bagging those big, brightly-colored late-season roosters and finding incredible hunting at the start of winter.
Closing truck doors quietly is a good idea during deer season, as the animals’ sense of hearing is phenomenal. It’s not unusual to see a buck bolt from cover or a set of does crash out of a cattail slough and out across the horizon at the slightest slam of a tailgate. Approach areas of cover or potential bird hunting spots with the same care given to sound during the deer season as roosters will be wary and wily. Keep field communications to a minimum, including with any hunting dogs, using slight whistles or hand signals to limit excess noise. A couple weeks of quiet hunting practice for big bucks will pay huge dividends when carried into late November and December for pheasants.
Glass It Out
Much as hunters would lift their binoculars from the dash of their truck to scan the edges of fields and cover for deer and their related signs during gun season, it’s just as easy to leave those observation tools in a hunting rig to scan for pheasants straight through the holiday season. Before hitting a stretch of thick habitat, take a few minutes to scan the surrounding area and adjacent cut fields for tracks and the more observable areas where pheasants have scratched away snow to find the leftover crop below. These dark splotches of dirt along otherwise white field edges are easily identifiable and provide clues as to pheasant movement and likely starting points for fast shooting when a hunting dog gets close to the identified areas in nearby cover.
This year, row crops have been slow to come down, with many areas providing a lot of standing cover for bucks and does as the gun season starts. Even with the solid chill that’s kicking the deer season off, farmers are hurrying to harvest what remains on the landscape as conditions allow. As they do cut corn, cover for deer will disappear and they’ll move to adjacent habitat like sloughs, groves, tree plantings and brushy areas. Pheasants will do the same, dipping into draws, stands of cane and cattails and thick grasses to find cover. Make note of those fields and watch for farming activity to shift the location of birds in the late season. With some help from mother nature, most cover crops should be off the landscape by Thanksgiving and pheasants will hole up in classic huntable habitat areas for the balance of the hunting calendar.
Much as big game hunters utilize an oncoming wind to blow their scent away from likely hunting areas and travel corridors, late-season uplanders will be wise to do the same, but for different reasons. Working into a wind typically puts bird hunters in line with areas pheasants use for quick escapes – either the downwind edge of a habitat structure or the upwind side. Additionally, an oncoming wind will help dogs find their quarry and keep the scent of bunkered-down birds flowing to them, until they close in for a rock-solid point or exciting flush. Remember to pause in those last 20 yards on the upwind side to make birds jumpy and take to the sky.
General, common-sense hunting tactics transition easily from species to species, and late-season methods for upland hunting will feel like second nature after a careful deer season afield. Focus on staying quiet, scouting likely edges, making note of shifts on the landscape and utilizing the wind to find success and continue great hunting from one season to another, and just smile and laugh when that wise old buck gets up and takes off on the first late season pheasant hunt after the deer season closes!
Featured Photo: Late season roosters can be had by employing those same sneaky deer season tactics, as evidenced by Adam Marthaler and his dog Kensi. Simonson Photo.