Winter is when pheasant hunting is truly at its premium. The first week of pheasant season during early fall is all fine and dandy, but you should wait until the snow covers the ground while most of the other pheasant hunters are either staying home by the fire or fishing through the ice.
The ringnecks that have eluded being flushed and shot at until late in the year are tough, beautiful specimens. The birds that are still strutting around late in the game are smart, strong fliers with a calmness as cool as a winter dawn. If these birds can’t outsmart you, they sure can outrun you.
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Yet these intelligent but favorable birds can be patterned late in the season, because they need a high octane diet and protection from the weather. The cold forces pheasants to focus in areas that provide ample access to both.
Winter pheasants feed on the leftovers that farmers leave in the fields after harvest. Corn, wheat, barley, sorghum, soy beans, and sunflowers all offer pheasants what they need most in winter. Some state-owned wildlife management areas even leave a percentage of the crop standing. Some crops, like sunflowers, can’t be harvested until spring if the snow comes too early. Crops left standing are ideal for winter pheasants because they offer cover and food that remain accessible above the snow.
Dense shelterbelts, CRP fields, overgrown abandoned farmsteads, frozen cattail sloughs and river bottoms may all offer winter roosting cover for pheasants. If a blizzard rips through the area, the birds that don’t take advantage of such cover are likely to die off.
The easiest way to get a shot at a winter pheasant is to surprise it. This starts with being quiet. Be quiet, and you will see more pheasants. It’s that simple. When pheasants don’t see or hear a hunter coming, they don’t have time to run. Shocked pheasants freeze, then they panic. They make mistakes. Being quiet also makes a hunter more observant. A silently stalking hunter tunes into the world around him.
Taking the surprise factor a step further, it pays to approach pheasants from a direction the birds aren’t used to being approached from. If an area always gets pushed from the road, any roosters still crowing have planned a means of escape, and this escape becomes consistent. Sneak in from a different direction, and a educated rooster doesn’t have much of a game plan.
Over the course of a long hunting season pheasants tend to bunch up where they are disturbed least. If the area you hunt received a lot of hunting pressure earlier in the season, try any small, hard- to-reach spots of cover. The obvious spots probably are burned out.
Winter weather can be a friend or foe to the winter pheasant hunter. Try to hunt when the air is cold and the snow is fresh. On such days you will find roosters buried in thick cover, and these birds tend to hold nicely. On warm, sunny days, ringnecks stray out into the open. You may see more birds, but gun-shy pheasants in thin cover can be difficult to approach.
Pheasant hunting can be an extremely gratifying way to spend a winter day. You will most likely have the fields all to yourself, walking all day without ever hearing a shotgun blast unless the noise comes from your own barrel. The days indeed grow shorter as winter settles in, but the rooster’s tail feathers do not. So if you have never tried to hunt pheasants during the winter months, you may be in for a treat. Besides watching football, what else is there top do ?