Singling Out Pheasants

Nick Simonson

By Nick Simonson

If you’re a fan of the Netflix show Stranger Things (and even if you aren’t) it was tough to get away from the reissuance of Kate Bush’s song “Running Up That Hill” this summer.  Even now as we get into autumn, the tune which saved Max from the grip of Vecna (spoiler alert?) remains in the top 40 thanks to being featured in the streaming sensation’s fourth season, long after it debuted on the Billboard charts four decades ago.  For some reason though – and perhaps it’s just the timing of it all – the single reminds me of pheasant season and pursuing my dog up an incline when he’s hot on the trail of a rooster, as do a number of others.

Running Up That Hill

Typically such a jaunt doesn’t last.  I’ve always held the adage “pheasants don’t run uphill” close to my vest every time I head out and hit the rolling prairie for roosters.  The natural barrier of a small rise is just one of the many edges that often forces birds into the air, and anytime an incline ticks at a more upward angle, the more likely it seems that roosters leave the runway and take to the skies, providing an ideal shot.  While I don’t have data to back the flush-to-non-flush percentages up, from an armchair perspective, pushing birds into an incline often results in the birds taking flight.

Thick as a Brick

Another natural edge which produces the same phenomenon is the end of thick cover, such as cattail sloughs.  Pushing birds through reeds, with tunnels and hidey holes below the cracking canopy of cattails often drives roosters to the nearest edge, which may be on the side of the pursuing dog and hunter.  It’s not uncommon to have these birds too hit the wall and see open air, taking off well ahead of the following hunting party.  Keep an eye on where the edge of the cover will be and know that roosters will take flight as you approach the end of the cattails, especially in those places where the cover comes to a point, lobe, finger, or other shape which juts out into a grassy stretch or an agricultural field.

Blowin’ in the Wind

One barrier that is less physical but still influential in determining where birds will flush is the wind.  Roosters will often hunker down on the edge of cover that abuts an open space that the wind is blowing across.  Many times, this will create a long scent trail, especially if the cover is a bit lighter and birds have been in the holding position for a while.  On really gusty days, those stretches of shelterbelts and brushlines, or taller CRP grasses will hold birds on the windward side of the cover, providing for an easy escape.  Consider pushing the cover all the way up to the edge, and pausing 10 or 20 yards short of it.  This halt in the pursuit has a way of making roosters nervous, and they’ll flush at the edge of the cover, making better shots possible. 

The Water’s Edge

Finally, another natural barrier that drives roosters skyward is the edge of any water body.  Be it a larger pond, meandering creek or a small river, pushing cover towards water is a good way to set up a shot.  In those spaces where small flows twist back and forth, slowly work the wider stretches of grass and cattails with multiple hunters and dogs, and keep sending the birds toward a pinch point made by the winding waterway and other natural edges, such as a steeper embankment. 

These locations will help you single out where pheasants are likely to flush.  You’ll get additional bonus points if you can name the artists of each one as well, as the mnemonics help you remember just where to be when pheasant season starts and all autumn long.

Answers: Kate Bush, Jethro Tull, Bob Dylan, Seven Mary Three.

Simonson is the lead writer and editor of Dakota Edge Outdoors.

Featured Photo: On Edge. Knowing those edges on which pheasants flush, and those places they’re more likely to take to the air will help with successful shooting this season. Simonson Photo.

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