While the opening weekend of pheasant season is a highly-anticipated tradition, it may not provide the best hunting of the year. Hunting can actually be better later when winter weather arrives and fewer hunters are in the field.
The big groups of hunters are usually gone after the second weekend of the season, leaving only dedicated bird hunters, who have Walk-in Hunting Access tracts and other public lands to themselves. And it’s often easier to get permission on private land after opening weekend, especially after the firearm deer season, which ends on Dec. 11 this year.
Colder weather and a little snow on the ground can dramatically improve hunter success because pheasants often congregate in heavy cover in these conditions. The cool air temperature and moisture will also help bird dogs find more birds.
And while it’s easier to predict where you’ll find late-season pheasants, you can’t pull up to a likely-looking weed patch and start slamming doors and hollering at dogs. Late-season birds didn’t survive a month of hunting season by being stupid, and success requires some strategy and stealth. In fact, a single hunter quietly following a close-working dog in heavy cover may have the best chance of surprising birds for close flushes. A small group of hunters will increase their odds of success if they park some distance away from the heaviest cover and approach quietly. Strategically-placed blockers will also add birds to the bag on late season hunts.
Hunting birds on a crisp morning in fresh snow is every pheasant hunter’s dream. New snow provides great tracking conditions, providing sign of not only where birds are located, but also of where other hunters have already been.
Don’t give up after the opening weekend this year. Watch the weather and make plans to hunt after the first winter storm passes through. Revisit the heavy weed patches that made you sweat on opening day and you’ll likely find your best hunting of the year.