Here are five easy off-season steps to increase your odds this fall.
One would think that little preparation is required for a good pheasant hunt. While it's true, the success rate for pheasant hunting with no preparation would likely be higher than, say, deer hunting, the old saying still holds true. A little preparation now will go a long ways later on when you're out in the tall grass. Hunters can do many things to increase their odds of reaching their daily limit on birds.
Practices like hunting in cooler temperatures, getting out early in the day, hunting near water, pushing through corners and edges, driving the birds up wind or up hill are all good techniques for bagging more birds. But what about before the hunt? How do we prepare now to increase our chances later. Here are five simple tips to improve your odds of having a safe and successful pheasant hunt this fall.
1. Get in shape
This is often one of the most overlooked areas for guys I've pheasant hunted with in the past. Large groups of guys will go out to cover the wide open prairie land that pheasants inhabit. These groups often start strong with the early excitement of the first few passes through a field, but those unprepared physically quickly fade. When pushing in straight lines, these folks often slow the group down or cause challenges for other hunters ready and willing to work hard for that bird. Let's look at a couple quick facts.
Pheasants love tall grass. They're also shifty and can move quickly, even on the ground. Combine these two challenges with the fact that the fields and pastures we're crossing when hunting pheasants can be quite long and you quickly create disadvantages for yourself and the group if you're unprepared. What ends up happening is you quickly have people volunteering to man the posting position, those stationed at the opposite end of the field, for the remainder of the day. This makes for another challenge when it prevents other older or winded hunters from a well-deserved break.
2. Break in your gear
This was one of those lessons learned the hard way for me. Pheasant hunting in the Midwest can be tricky. One weekend, it's 65 degrees and your sweating through your blaze orange gear in the first 20 minutes. Hiking through the brush can quickly turn even mild temperatures into an exhausting event. The next weekend you could be trouncing through half a foot of snow with wind chills hovering around freezing.
Do yourself a favor and ensure that all of your gear, even the stuff in the back of your closet, is adequately broke in and ready to hunt. A fun day hunting with your friends can be quickly ruined by blisters due to unbroken in boots or chaffing in undesired areas. Get out in your clothes and your gear before the season starts. Know what would cause issues ahead of time and make appropriate adjustments.
3. Get your dog practice
This one is a bit easier if you don't have a dog. However, if you do have a four-legged hunting partner at your disposal, make sure Fido gets some field time ahead of the season as well. Having a dog to help cover ground can be a real treasure when pheasant hunting. There are few things more exciting than seeing a well-trained bird dog work in the field.
That said, even the best trained pointers can be a real nuisance if they're tired. There are few things worse than having a dog follow along at your heels through the brush. A tired or worn out dog can be like pulling a trailer and slow the group down. Like our initial point, we need to ensure Fido is up to the task of running around all day. Practice for your pooch should also include additional bird training, especially in the offseason.
This holds true even if your dog is a seasoned vet and has successfully hunted birds for years. Retrieving, pointing, mouthing, taking direction, these are all skills that can wear out and get rusty, even in a top blood line bird dog.
4. Get out shooting
So this one is pretty simple. Simple enough, in fact, that many people overlook the need. Point and shoot, right? Well, sort of. We need to make sure we're familiar with our guns and ammunition selection before loading up and heading out. Choosing the right gun or the right shot and ammunition are simple things we can do to prevent issues in the field.
How hot is that load? Do you know how far to lead a crossing bird? What distance can you comfortably and accurately shoot at while maintaining your confidence? These are all things that can be addressed, or at least somewhat understood, by taking a few practice shots at some clay pigeons. This will also ensure that your gun will work properly with your chosen ammunition and avoid jamming. Also, make sure you're comfortable holding, raising, and lowering that gun for an extended period of time.
A large over/under might make you feel like a man, but your tired, jelly arms could have you whimpering to your buddies about all the extra weight. A light-weight, shorter barrel shotgun will be much easier to operate through the duration of your hunt. That is assuming you don't bag your limit right out of the gate, of course.
5. Have a safety meeting
A what? Yeah, a safety meeting. The ultimate goal of every hunting trip should be to make it home safely at night to our loved ones, full coolers or not. I've been hunting with the same group of guys on opening day for nearly 10 years. Yet, there isn't one hunting day that goes by that we don't all gather around for someone to lead us through a safety meeting before heading out on our first hunt. The meetings may have gotten shorter through the years, but covers the same information season after season.
Simple things like how to carry a weapon, walking in a line and hunting as a group, watching out for pushers and posters in different positions when driving the end of a field, aiming high, and even staying hydrated and taking breaks when necessary are all topics discussed. Regardless of whether your with 10 friends or two buddies, whether you've all hunted together in the past or have a handful of newbies, taking the time for a brief safety meeting will have all of your hunters (and their families) happy.