Friday, November 15, 2013

Hunting Pheasants Without a Dog

There is no denying that hunting pheasants with the aid of a dog is a huge advantage. However not every hunter owns an upland birding dog or has the time and commitment it takes to turn an ordinary dog into a trusted and well-adjusted hunting partner. Does this mean that hunting pheasants without the aid of a dog is not possible? Far from it. It just means you have to adjust your hunting tactics. Hunting without a dog means you have to know how to read pheasant habitat and how the birds use available cover. Another aspect to consider is the recovery of downed birds. With the lack of a dog’s astonishing sense of smell it can be a bit of a chore to find a downed bird, especially if they come down in thick cover. This means you have to consider carefully when to shoot a flushing bird so that it does not fall, or manages to fly, into thick cover.

Without a dog at your service I find it best to hunt in pairs or in a small group. Personally I prefer a group to consist of not more than three hunters; any more and safety usually becomes an issue. My personal experience is that pairs work best when hunting along the edges of known pheasant habitat. Hunting in pairs still necessitates the establishment for some simple rules; one of the most important is to establish shooting directions. Usually this means to establishing the direction each hunter can shoot and can not shoot. For example, hunters never should shoot in the direction of the other hunter, regardless of how thick the cover is. Also, shooting over head of the other hunter regardless of the angle must be avoided at all times. It is therefore very important to know exactly the whereabouts of your hunting partner at all times. As a pair it is best to walk parallel to each other on either side of the cover. Remember that flushed birds often flush into the wind and then turn downwind to escape.
There are two different likely pheasant habitats that I would like to discuss here that are well suited for hunting without a dog. I will start with the forested habitat (thick cover) and then discuss farmland habitat (open cover). By the way, the tactics discussed here work equally well for other upland birds like the Ruffed Grouse and Blue Grouse among others.
When hunting forested habitat it is important to understand the birds preferred cover and the areas that offer quality food sources such as berries, aspen seed pods, wild clover and other highly nutritious foods. Without the help of a dog you must learn to identify these preferred upland bird structures and move quickly from one spot to the next. When you arrive on a spot there is no need to sneak through the area trying to stalk up on a bird. Most pheasants just hunker down when they sense danger and a hunter can walk right past them, never knowing the bird is practically right at their feet. Instead, walk quickly in a zigzag motion though the area keeping in mind the fact that noise and fast paced movement will assist in getting the birds to flush rather than hunkering down in the cover or running away, as they often do. Also keep in mind that some birds will hold tight until the last second and flush right before your feet, so be alert of these birds too. If you hunt as a pair and you come upon a narrow strip of cover one of you can go in the middle of the cover and flush birds and the other can shoot as they come out. Just remember that the pusher is not the one who does the shooting, he only pushes the birds. The hunter on the periphery of the cover only shoots once the bird is in the wide open sky on the opposing side of the pusher; always played it safe!

Since you are hunting without a dog you have to watch every bird you shot at very carefully to see where it lands to ensure that you can retrieve it, even if that means that you have to pass up other birds that flush at the same time. It also means that you take good killing shots since a crippled bird is likely to run into thick cover never to be seen or found again without the aid of a dog. 

In open farmland you must change tactics somewhat. Since the land is open pheasants often can be spotted feeding in the fields. This gives the hunter the opportunity to observe the birds when they travel from roosting trees and between various feeding locations. Observing the pheasant’s daily routines enables you to make a plan on how and where the birds appear and then walk right in to flush them. Where spotting is not an option you can revert to the tactic of finding the preferred cover. If the cover consists of overgrown hedgerows and narrow creek bottoms two hunters can work it from opposite ends in order to prevent pheasants from just running from one end to the other. However, it is very important that the hunters are always aware of the position of the other, establishing safe shooting zones is paramount here. On farmland pheasants love to take advantage of waste on harvested grain fields and use small patches of standing tall grass nearby as sanctuaries. These small patches can be easily pushed to make birds flush. 

So here you have it, even without the aid of a hunting dog you still can enjoy the sporting opportunities that pheasant hunting offers.

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