Because cover can change over the course of the season, your hunting style should reflect that. You have to adapt when fields get harvested or sloughs dry up. Hunting pressure, time of day, number of hunting partners, and even your dog’s stamina can affect the productivity of each cover type.
If you are loath to adapt to habitat changes, just remember this: Pheasants are a simple species, driven to survive and fairly easy to predict. They sleep, eat, loaf, and then eat again. If you understand how birds use each cover type for each activity, you can put more roosters in your bag.
Many upland hunters leave cattails to the duck hunters. But overlooking these wetlands is a mistake, especially later in the season. Dense cattails allow roosters to hear predators approaching and provide excellent shelter during the cold winter months. Sometimes pheasants will burrow into the cattails during a storm.
The best cattail stands are those found near a food source, such as a crop field. Target the high spots, such as the edges where water meets land.
A close-working dog is helpful in rooting out birds. If you have a hunting partner, have him approach from the opposite direction to try to pin the birds. Pheasants use cattails for loafing, so this habitat is most productive in the afternoon or just before a storm.
Pheasants generally feed early in the morning and again just before dark.
Harvested cornfields are a favorite, but they can be very difficult because the convenient rows allow birds to run from one end to the other. To cut off the running lanes, call a few of your buddies and set up a drive. Post a few hunters at one end and push the birds from the other end. Walk into the wind while posted hunters remain still and quiet. The birds will often flush near the posted hunters, who should expect long crossing shots.
Large fields can be broken into smaller segments. Push the birds from the inside out toward the corners. Pointing breeds have a tough time holding birds in cornfields; tight-holding, close-working flushers are a better choice.
Upland brush can be found along fencerows and stream corridors and at the edges of woodlots. Like cattails, the dense, brushy cover is essential to winter survival. When grasslands get matted down from heavy snow, roosters will seek out the heavier cover of these brush patches.
As with cattails, upland brush can be productive during the afternoon later in the season, or all day during a storm. In regions where heavy hunting pressure has driven birds out of the CRP fields, try nearby brush cover.
A close-working dog helps, since upland brush is usually dense and tough to move through. But your easily thwarted fine-boned pointer won’t cut it here. You need a hard-charging, brush-busting dog for this job.
Like cornfields, CRP fields can be a challenge to hunt, since they are so large. Because birds will run, a drive is usually most effective for large fields.
If you are hunting by yourself or with one other hunter, you might have to work smaller sections of fields. Or you can simply let the dog do the work. Rather than confine the dog to a section of the field, trust his nose. Hunt upwind and let the dog go.
Pheasants often use CRP fields for loafing or roosting when they are not feeding. Early in the morning, before they fly out to feed, and during the afternoon are the best times to hunt grassy fields. CRP fields will remain productive until heavy snows weigh them down, pushing the birds to heavier cover. Wide-ranging pointers do well in this expansive habitat.