By late season, the dumb pheasants are dead. The survivors have learned that if they run instead of flying, they can evade dogs and hunters. These escape artists often squirt out of cover before you even see them. But South Dakota guide Dennis Foster (dakota pheasantguide.com) has a few tips that will even the playing field and help you put more of these ground-pounders in your bag this year.
1. Be Ready
Foster doesn’t give wild birds any warning. When he pulls into a field with his hunters, he is ready for a quick strike. The dogs are watered and their collars are on. His clients have shells in their pockets and are ready to grab guns from easily accessed soft cases. Any wasted time is time that the birds will use to start running in the other direction.
2. Set Flankers
While Foster moves quickly to start his hunt, he doesn’t immediately start walking a field. First, he positions wingmen on each flank—80 to 100 yards on either side, and slightly in front of the drivers—in order to corral running roosters. The formation looks like a V. If he has a big enough group, he’ll also position blockers at the far end of the field. Those blockers are in place before the drivers begin to work the field.
“The wingmen are incredibly important because they keep the birds hemmed in if they are breaking out ahead,” explains Foster. “Sometimes they can even keep them from breaking out. You are basically herding birds.”
If you don’t have blockers, then the drivers should work the field toward a pinch point. For example: If you have a triangular field, then the V should taper toward the point of the triangle.
If the birds flush out ahead instead of holding tight for the drivers, then the wingmen should be in position to shoot. Toward the end of the drive, the wingmen also become blockers by closing off the last escape routes. Foster notes that the wingmen should also be your most mobile hunters, so they can adapt to running birds by pushing farther out ahead if needed.
Foster stresses that it’s important to mark and recover downed birds quickly in order to keep the line of drivers moving, thereby keeping pressure on the birds.
3. Work for Dogs Closely
Foster is not a fan of dog whistles because he thinks hunters overuse them and alert edgy roosters. Instead, he says, “let the dogs be dogs. Once they’re in the field and have a nose full of rooster, their hunting instincts will take over. All a whistle does is distract them.”
Foster is mainly concerned that the dogs don’t range too far ahead. He wants his dogs to use their energy ranging laterally—from side to side—instead of racing to the end of a field. If your dog is routinely outpacing you and flushing birds out of range, then slow yourself down. Dogs often mirror the pace of their owner. And be sure to slow to a crawl when you encounter heavy cover, such as cattails and briars.
4. Hit ‘Em Hard
Foster relies on high-velocity, heavy loads to drop birds decisively. He particularly favors copper-plated shot because it hits hard. He begins the season with No. 5 shot, but within a couple of weeks he switches to No. 4 shot. By the end of the season—when roosters have grown dense, pellet-stopping plumage—he will use No. 3 shot.
“I have had clients question their shooting ability when their birds didn’t go down, but in reality, they were hitting the birds. Their payload just wasn’t up to the task.”