Pheasant hunting had pretty much become a hunt of the past in Utah until two years ago. Most of the areas I remember my dad hunting when I was little have not had pheasants for several years. This has been a problem throughout the state of Utah. However, the Utah Division of Wildlife has started a program which releases over 11,000 birds annually to public hunting locations across the state. I have been out a few times on pheasant hunts, but this past November was the first hunt I have been on where I was a participant in the hunt and not just tagging along.
Growing up, I remember having pheasant meals. They were a treat! My dad would roll the birds in bread crumbs and then slow cook them to tenderize the meat. I haven’t had a pheasant meal for several years now, and the thought of cooking up a homemade meal was an inspiration for the hunt.
A pheasant’s main defense is hiding. In thick cover, such as the area we walked, you can almost step on top of a bird before it will jump up and move. A few tactics for pheasant hunting are to walk slowly and take your time through the brush, work in groups to push through large areas, and look for ditches or other areas birds would utilize for cover. While hunting alone is fine, there is a very large benefit to having a bird dog.
I have two “bird” dogs. I use the word “bird” loosely because my dogs are not professionally trained, even saying casually trained would be a stretch, and they are not necessarily the greatest bird dogs either. But they work hard when we go out and they love it! I don’t think anything excites those labs more than when a shotgun is pulled out.
The Bounty Hunters!
Like I said before, I have two labs. Ryah, the yellow lab, is 12 years old. She is the better birder of the two. Ryah is definitely a flusher when she works. She rarely uses her nose, but she works the area in front of you as you walk and visually checks EVERY bush. Ryah is actually really good at finding birds and jumping them for you. Pheasants prefer to run along the ground, and they have to be really pushed before they will fly. Ryah is definitely a pusher! Where Ryah lacks in her “birding” abilities is returning the bird to you. She LOVES chasing the birds down after they fall, but she refuses to give them back to you. I have always got the impression she figures they are her birds, not your’s.
Sienna, the chocolate lab, is five. I would say she is the okay at flushing pheasants, but that would be a lie. Sienna is terrible. Her preferred “flushing” area is right at your heels. She seems to lack the confidence to go out in front of you and search for birds. She seems to have a pretty decent nose, but it is hard for her to be very useful when she is so close to your heels that you practically kick her in the jaw while you are simply walking. Sienna’s strong point is definitely once the shot has been taken. She is a great retriever and seems almost overjoyed to fetch a bird for you. She is better for duck hunting than pheasant hunting, but she still is excited to go and has a great time traversing the reeds and brush.
I can’t offer much advice on training bird dogs, since mine were not trained in the least bit. When we first got Ryah, my husband simply took her out pheasant hunting and she kind of learned as time passed. She knows a few whistle commands, but she will not respond to me if I do them. My husband has a whistle for when she has gotten too far in front and she needs to pull back closer (This is important because she will start jumping birds outside of your shooting range). He also has a whistle that means she needs to look at him for a hand signal. She will weave left or right depending on which way you point, but that has taken years to develop. The best advice I can give on “training” (if you can call it that) is to just spend time with your dogs.
For this pheasant hunt, I used a 20 gauge shot gun. We planned on walking several miles throughout the day and crossing reed filled ditches and even creek beds. I decided on the 20 gauge gun because it is so much lighter to carry. When I carry the 12 gauge, my back really starts to ache. I know, I know, I am whiny, but it is hard walking!
A couple of other guns that I have read as being popular for pheasant hunting include the 12 gauge, a 28 gauge, and .410 Bore. I haven’t worked with any of those, other than the 12 gauge, but I would guess the .410 and 28 would be a little weak. There is always a 10 gauge, but it always seems like an unnecessary beating to the shoulder.
Picking a shot load, brand of bullet, and choke size are the more difficult choices with hunting. I am still learning about the reasons for using different shot. It is something that takes not only research but also just plain experience, especially with the brands. What brand works well in one gun may cause a jam in another, and it is definitely a trial and error method.
In Utah, especially around where I live, most areas require you to use a nontoxic shot. This means no lead based shot. I never buy lead based anyway, just to be on the safe side, but if you have lead shot you should check the area’s regulations before you head out.
For this hunt, I went with 6 shot and an intermediate choke. My husband shoots a full choke so he can hit the longer shots if needed.
Learning to pheasant hunt takes a little time. The best method for covering the most ground is to spread out and walk in a straight line through the reeds and brush. The walking is hard. It doesn’t sound hard, but by the end of the day my legs are beat! And, for me, I had to work on gaining confidence in myself and my fellow hunters. For someone that has been hunting for years, they have already know the “rules” of hunting to avoid “Dick Cheney” moments while out walking in a group. As a newbie, I am still developing trust in my fellow group members and working on shooting the bird when it jumps instead of first stopping, shying back because gun fire is happening around me, and then realizing I should be shooting too.
The fall pheasant hunt in Utah lasts from November 1 through November 16 for the general season and also an extended season (depending on the area in the state) from November 17 to December 7 (this was for 2014, so the dates will be slightly different for 2015). There is a daily limit of two birds and a possession limit of six birds total. Also, it is important to remember that you may only shoot male birds! You need to have a a small game or combination license for hunting pheasant, but there is not an extra permit needed like in the case of turkey or other birds.
Migratory birds require hunters to obtain a HIP number, but this is not required with pheasants because they are not a migratory bird. Pheasants are actually a non-native species to the United States. They originated in Asia and are actually an introduced species. They were introduced to Utah in the early 1890s.