Your first hunt for ring-necked pheasants can be intimidating, but keep these guidelines in mind and you’ll do fine.
Ring-necked pheasants can be found throughout much of the United States and are often among the first upland birds hunters learn to pursue. Pheasant hunting is also among the most fun group activities in the outdoor sports, so, like a corporate golf outing, you might one day find yourself with an invitation to go chase these birds. If you’ve never experienced it before, such a hunt might seem intimidating. Here are some essential tips to ensure you’ll enjoy your first pheasant hunt and get invited back again.
Select your gun, choke, and load
You don’t need a fancy shotgun to hunt pheasant, but I wouldn’t recommend using anything smaller than a 16 gauge. Some prefer a quick-handling 20 gauge, but I’ve seen numerous wound-losses on birds by those wielding one—especially when shooting late-season birds who have thicker feathers and fat that seem to soak up pellets.
When choosing a load, find yourself a box of premium-quality, high-velocity (1,300 FPS or higher) rounds somewhere between 4 and 6 shot. Those larger, heavier pellets will buck any wind and reach jumpy birds that flush near your gun’s maximum range. If your gun has screw-in choke tubes, drop in an improved or modified choke before you hit the field. If you’re stuck with a fixed choke, that’s fine—just keep it in mind when you’re taking your shots. Hammering a bird up close with a full choke will leave you with a cloud of feathers and not much edible meat.
Make sure you’ve patterned your shotgun with the loads you intend to use, and that you’re familiar with handling that particular gun. Going into the field with an untested and unfamiliar shotgun is a formula for trouble. You should be able to manipulate the safety without conscious thought.
Help out your fellow hunters
One of the more unique aspects of pheasant hunting is that it can be a cooperative effort with other hunters. Take advantage of that by helping out those around you. Always call out “rooster” or “hen” whenever you see a bird flush; it can help your buddies make a snap decision on whether or not to take a shot. (Note: Unless you’re at a game farm, you’ll be shooting roosters only.) If one of them drops a bird, keep an eye on where it went down and help guide them toward it. Even when you have dogs in the field, this can be enormously helpful.
Watch the dogs
If you’re hunting behind dogs, be mindful of where they are and what they’re doing—even if they’re not yours. Dogs have a tendency to jump after a flushing bird. If you’re too eager to take a shot, firing while the bird is still low to the ground, you risk hitting the dog, particularly in areas where grass is high and visibility of a dog’s movements is limited.
Don’t get tunnel vision
New pheasant hunters tend to get hyper-focused on a flushing bird, and for good reason. There’s a lot of excitement in that moment: It’s an explosion of movement, cackling, and shouting. But the essential gun safety rule of always knowing what lies beyond your target must prevail here. Birds will sometimes hold tight to cover and flush between hunters, or will fly low between them. If you’re fixated on tracking the bird with your gun, you could endanger your hunting partners simply by losing your situational awareness.
Keep up, but don’t get ahead
When hunting pheasants in a group, the typical approach is to spread out in a line across the width of a field. Keep the hunters to your left and right within sight. Move at such a pace that they’re neither ahead of you nor behind. You don’t want to limit anyone else’s field of fire by being in the way, nor your own by lagging too far behind.
Keep things simple
Inexperience is always forgivable so long as you don’t get hurt or hurt anyone else. Focus on the fundamentals of gun safety and handling, ask plenty of questions of those around you, and enjoy the hunt.