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Tough Old Rooster Cakes

Pheasant in Brine

How do you know when you’ve harvested a three-year-old rooster? When you have to chew it until the next season to swallow it.

Tough old birds are challenging and fun to chase. But part of that challenge is making them fit for the table. On principle, most hunters will choke down just about anything they shoot — ethics require it. But how do you get that old bird tasty enough to serve guests?

Last year I noticed the birds I harvested lacked the pristine, market-fresh appearance of many of the game chefs filling social feeds with haute cuisine photos. Between my average shooting skills and a young dog with tendencies toward plucking and too much teeth, I was lucky to have birds returned to hand in one piece, let alone pristine. The truth is, some birds just aren’t that pretty when they enter the freezer.

So I started thinking about recipes that might redeem the old, shot up roosters that reside in the back corners of the freezer.

Brining is an easy way to improve quality of an old bird. For this recipe we brined pheasant breasts overnight in the refrigerator in a solution of equal parts salt and sugar with a few lemon slices.

Wild pheasant meat tends to be very lean which can make it tough and dry once cooked. The addition of mayo and bacon adds moisture and flavor as well as binding the cakes.

Pheasant, Bacon and Green Onions

Tough Old Rooster Cakes

Reviving less pristine birds into a dish fit for family and friends. 

Course Appetizer
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 6 pheasant cakes

Ingredients

  • 4 pheasant breasts
  • 4 strips of bacon
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup green onions
  • 1 cup Panko bread crumbs

Instructions

  1. After brining overnight, dice pheasant breasts into half inch cubes

  2. Pre-cook strips of bacon - you want to stop prior to crispy stage. Let it cool and then chop into small pieces. 

  3. In a bowl combine the diced pheasant, bacon, half of the green onions and half the Panko with the mayonnaise. You're looking for a texture like tuna salad, depending on the moisture level of your birds you may need to adjust the mixture with more/less bread crumb or mayo. 

  4. Add a dash of salt and pepper, then form the mixture into patties. 

  5. Press those patties into the remaining half of the Panko to cover both sides. 

  6. Add just enough oil to cover the bottom of a cast iron skillet. We're not shooting for super-high temps, so olive, peanut or vegetable oil should work just fine, possibly even butter .....  

    Place over medium heat. 

  7. Once the oil is heated, place your pheasant cakes in the skillet. The trick here is to not fuss with them. There isn't much filler or binder in these cakes, so you're going for a single flip of each. Otherwise, you risk them falling apart. 

  8. Allow the crust to form, 4-5 minutes per side. 

    The small cubes of meat along with the high moisture content let these cook quickly. 

  9. Garnish with the remaining diced green onion. 

  10. If you have more birds, it's easy to adjust quantities. One strip of bacon per breast.

Recipe Notes

The crisp outsides of these pheasant cakes add a great texture note. 

We tried a couple of options for serving.

Simple and lighter: place cakes on a bed of green with a couple slices of avocado and a squeeze of lemon. 

OR

Seasonal and decadent: place cakes on wild rice and smother in morel cream sauce (recipe below). 

Pheasant Cakes


For those fortunate enough to live where morels are available in the spring, they are a great compliment to these cakes and can make this appetizer a decadent seasonal treat. I made a morel cream sauce separating the fungus in half – reserving the nicer shrooms for frying.

morel mushrooms

Diced Morels

Morel Cream Sauce

So simple and good. Tough to think of anything that morel cream sauce won't improve.

Course Side Dish
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 mess foraged morel mushrooms the more you find, the better
  • 1 pint half-n-half
  • 4 TBSP butter
  • 4 TBSP flour
  • Salt

Instructions

  1. This part of the country, we soak our morels in saltwater for an hour after finding to kill bugs, slugs and the like. 

  2. Split your mess into nicer morels for frying and smaller, older, dryer morels for the sauce. 

  3. Put a rough chop on the morels selected for the sauce. We probably had two dozen total mushrooms for this recipe, so we chopped a dozen. 

  4. In a saucepan on medium heat, melt the butter and add the chopped morels and a pinch of salt. Allow them to cook until you see the edges begin to brown. And the morels have now flavored the butter. 

  5. Add the flour while stirring which coats the mushrooms and soaks up the butter making a roux.

  6. Slowly add half-n-half while stirring. As it heats it will thicken. Add until your sauce reaches the desired thickness. 

  7. Slice the other morels in half, dredge in equal parts of corn starch and flour and begin frying them in a skillet with butter. Across much of the Midwest this is the standard preparation, though we've just recently found the corn starch seems to make them a bit crispier. 

Recipe Notes

For those not lucky enough to find large quantities of mushrooms, this simple cream sauce can stretch that morel flavor to anything you put it on. 

The second half of fried morels make a great texture contrast and attractive garnish as well. 

Rooster Cake with Morel Cream

Grilled Pheasant + Mojo Sauce

Whole Pheasant Grilled

This spatchcocked, grilled pheasant is probably one of the more satisfying meals I have made with wild game to date. The crispy skin is full of flavor from a homemade dry rub, the meat is tender and juicy, and the citrus-garlic Mojo sauce is so delicious.

Cuban Mojo Sauce

This Mojo sauce has it all: Sweet, Sour, Garlicky, and a little bit of kick. It’s great for serving as a dipping sauce with meat, fish and veggies, or you can use it as a marinade. It’s really easy to make and the recipe below yields about 2 Cups. You can always freeze what you don’t use, but I am willing to bet you put this sauce on any and everything.

Mojo sauce is definitely for garlic lovers, the Cubans did not skimp out when they created it. This recipe has 8 cloves in it, which seems like a lot, but somehow it works and it is so delicious!

This sauce really packs a punch which is why it’s so addicting. Traditionally, Mojo is made using sour oranges. Because I live in North Dakota and can’t get that, I used a blend of oranges and limes. A traditional Mojo would also have cumin and oregano in it, but I chose to leave them out because they are in the dry rub, and instead, used cilantro and jalapeños.

Spatchcock Pheasant

How to Spatchcock a Pheasant

Spatchcocked, also called Butterflied, is an easy way to break down a whole bird that you want to be grilled a little quicker and with a little more consistency.

To start, make sure the pheasant you use is in good shape (i.e. the legs aren’t shot into a million bone fragments). You can pluck the bird and keep the skin on, but you can also do skinless. If you choose to do skinless, you can marinate the pheasant in the Mojo sauce. But, if you want the skin to be really crispy, use the dry rub instead and follow the guidelines and get the full recipe at Wild + Whole.

Inroads

Covey in Flight

We’ve been coming to this area of the grain belt for over 20 years. It took the locals at least seven of those to warm beyond a passing nod or the requisite finger waive to oncoming trucks. We now know many by name though most likely still recognize us only as familiar faces. Every year the list of those names grows shorter and tables easier to come by at the local breakfast joint where the menu hasn’t changed since the advent of Crisco.

There’s an undercurrent of sorrow in these tiny towns that subsist on the edges of massive seas of grain. The small, family farms are dwindling with the youth who choose lives away from the toil of land. With their exit the hedge rows, culverts and fences that shelter upland birds are put to the plow in memoriam. A constant shadow of loss runs deep in furrowed brows.

Empty streets, empty storefronts breeding empty fields.

It’s a sharp contrast to the joy we feel returning to walk areas named for memories of hunts’ past. An escape from narrow spaces and narrow minds of populous hometowns to these wide, quiet prairies. The same solitude that weighs on residents heals transients. Attempts to transfuse our excitement for the region seem only to produce short lived results. The recession of these towns shows no sign of abating.

Opening week brings hope that the resident game birds will find a way to oppose the trajectory of aging residents. Members of this hunting band are trying to stave-off the march of time as well. My dad and Wyatt, the black lab, are well to the back side of the hill. But the hunt continues, sometimes at a little slower pace, often not tackling quite as big cover. Using decades of local intel we’ve amassed of the area seems to compensate for waning abilities.

The birds never age. They are elusive and spry as always. They are the same birds we’ve chased all this time. They recognize us and treat us as old adversaries. Most still outrun us, outfly our shot string, cackle at the idea of getting to know us any better than fleeting glances over splayed wings cast to the sunset. We’re greeted by more Bobwhite these last couple seasons, though the pheasant and prairie chickens still make a passing appearance, just long enough to acknowledge the dogs and alert the rest of the county to our presence.

The inroads we’ve made with the townsfolk seem impervious on the birds. But occasionally we’re able to break through and shake hands with a few. We share the encounters with our local friends who delight at the news that youthful flights persist.

Bird Hunting Amid Spun Tales

Kansas Pheasant Hunting

Every year in Kansas we hear funny stories about birds and hunting. Maybe it was the full moon, the start of the whitetail rut or the dismal bird forecasts that contributed to tales of the extra nutty variety this season. We hunt from a small town that resides in a county with a population just over 3,000. If one person shares a story it is guaranteed to be known in all corners by the end of day.

On the third day of the season in Kansas this year we were informed by one of our local friends that he had spoken to a group of out of state hunters while driving home on back roads. He inquired how the hunting was going with a response of “not so good”. This group of hunters then proceeded to share their theory for the ringneck population decline: the deer have been eating all the pheasant eggs………… That likely bears repeating because this might be the craziest thing I’ve ever heard about declining bird populations. The deer are eating all the pheasant eggs according to this group of non-resident hunters.

While at the local gas station the attendant let us know that she spoke with a hunter who had witnessed a marauding band of killer turkeys that rounded up a group of juvenile pheasant into a circle and proceeded to kill and eat them. The gobblers then headed off in apparent search of their next victims.

Complaining over the loss of 95% of their birds, the owner of a local restaurant informed me that his adult son had gone out last week and killed three roosters (this would have been a week before the season started). Upon cleaning the birds he found there was little to no meat on them and they were unfit for eating. He concluded, the entire pheasant population has contracted a disease and the Kansas DNR is covering it up.

A hunter staying in the same motel was happy to inform us if we get in a situation where we need to buy birds, there’s a great guy just west of town who charges $175 for a four bird limit. And If we call ahead he’ll put them out and show us exactly where to hunt.

I’ve hunted in Kansas for the last 20 years. For the last decade my dad has joined this adventure. Over that time we’ve developed lots of great friendships with residents we see year-over-year. We tend to hunt the same general vicinity which gives us a pretty decent annual view of what’s happening in the broader ecosystem when assessing bird populations.

Ringneck numbers in Kansas have been on the decline for the last few seasons. The hard winter of 2010-2011 accompanied by the extremely wet spring seemed to be the initial blow. This was followed by a severe drought the summer of 2012 and drought conditions throughout the bulk of spring and summer this year. These dry conditions seized a large portion of the center of the country prompting the USDA to allow a massive swath of emergency haying of land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) — see the map below.

The pheasant numbers in Kansas were lower than I have ever seen. But let me assure you this isn’t a mysterious disease or egg-eating deer. Everything is being bailed: milo stalks, wheat stubble, CRP grass. In the area where we hunt many of those bails are being sold and trucked to other areas of the country even harder hit by drought. Combine this rampant bailing with the generally high prices of grain. We’re seeing more and more areas that were previously enrolled in CRP now being planted. And we’re also seeing fence lines and trees being bulldozed to gain even more area to plant.

As much as we enjoy a good story, the tale of pheasant decline across the midwest is pretty simple: lack of cover.

So we’ll be hoping for a mild winter across the center of the country this year. And then we’d like Mother Nature to serve up decent moisture that allows the prairies, pastures and crops to thrive. We don’t chase bird forecasts so we’ll be back in Kansas next season to visit our friends. We’re in search of memories afield that have very little to do with bird numbers. And if I’m ever in a situation where I need to buy birds, I’ll go to the grocery and pay $2.99 per pound.

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CRP Haying Map

Kansas Bird Hunting in Perspective

I make the annual pilgrimage to Kansas to reunite with old friends and family.  It reminds me of where my passion for bird hunting was first kindled.  Because this year was no exception to the rule, Kansas seemed like the right place to bring together our young Jornada Llewellin Rio with our veteran flusher Wyatt for their first joint hunt.

An inexperienced puppy afield is a great mirror into a hunters reality. Rio reflects how much my hunting style and perspective has developed. We typically bring a new pup into the family every five years and because so many things change unnoticed during hunting seasons over time, Rio is a breath of fresh air. While older accomplished dogs tend to blend in, covering for mistakes and making you better on days when you’re just average, Rio shows how much older I’ve gotten. She tests my patience. One minute, she hangs on my every word acting as if she understands verbatim while the next she feigns deafness to any coaching. This pup runs wild and acts crazy when I feel anything but. She looks for birds in places I know they are not, and then finds birds there to spite any wisdom I presume to possess. 
Rio poses even more of a challenge because she’s a pointer, and Wyatt is a flushing lab. When this season started my first inclination was to hunt them separately to establish a different set of rules for Rio. However, she has proven to be focused and steady on point, earning her stripes during my Nebraska trip and a subsequent North Woods hunt with other dogs. As a result, I’m upping the ante by turning her loose with my dozer Wyatt. I know fully what to expect of him and he’s hunted with pointers before. The whole prospect still causes some butterflies. I’ve gotten far too accustomed to running a single dog. 

The conditions in Kansas are bit discouraging this season and I’ve prepared myself for the worst. The drought has decimated the cover. Most landowners have been forced to cut and bail the land enrolled in the CRP programs. Though it is still designated public walk-in for hunting, lack of cover makes most plots unfit to shelter birds. Early bird forecasts were up from 2011 when the hatch was drowned with record spring rainfall totals. But now it has swung to the opposite extreme. This year grains underperformed and were harvested early along with the cropped native grasses leaving few areas for pheasant to hide from aerial predators. The normal steep learning curve for the young birds has become even more treacherous. However, this is what hunting public land is all about; take the conditions we’re given and try to make lemonade. 

It is the 10th season dad has joined us in Kansas. This spring he saw Rio train and has an idea of just how much ground she can effortlessly cover. In contrast when you’re over 70 years old I’m not sure anything is physically effortless anymore. I know he’s nervous that the pack might outrun him and his titanium knee replacement. So this hunt I’m putting dad in charge of tracking Rio. He’s going to carry the SportDog Tek GPS transmitter so he can see when she’s on point. Really he’ll be able to see where she is at any time because of the collar’s seven mile range. This eliminates any fear of losing her. She’s free to range too long, get lost and then find her way back to us. It is the best way for young dogs to gain confidence and begin understanding the value of proximity to the gun. Pairing the old man and the young dog should be great for everyone.

Decades of Kansas experience and learning from mistakes have shown us the light. Gone are the days of running on tilt across fields, yelling at dogs, hoping to close distances on roosters bolting out the other end of the field. Now we hunt small and smart: We still cover lots of ground but try to focus on the smaller areas within fields that we determine most productive. I like to pit our dogs and skills against the smartest wild birds we can find. The birds will win their share of these battles, but we will win our share as well. Many hunters get caught up in the heft of the game bag which is a losing proposition. Inevitably there will be days you don’t shoot a limit. Instead we strive for memories that we’ll recall for years to come and they rarely have anything to do with limits.

 On the third morning of this 10-day hunt the phone rings. My Aunt Pat, dad’s sister, suffered a heart attack and was undergoing a cardiac cath which would reveal the severity and next steps. We were 1,000 miles away. There’s not much to do but prepare to make the drive to Ohio. But until we get the results of the procedure we’re in limbo. Depending on what they find this may be our last hunt of the year. 

Cardiac issues hit very close to home in our family; Dad has survived quadruple bypass, multiple procedures and complications over the years. We’ve become good friends and are on a first name basis with his cardiologist — which is both reassuring and disconcerting at the same time. So when his sister has a heart attack it immediately brings a massive weight to bear and I could see it on his face. But I convince dad we should take our phones and hunt one last field while waiting for Aunt Pat’s results. A walk on a brisk morning can help clear heads. 

The dogs seem to sense the gravity. They hunt with purpose from the moment I drop the tailgate. We’re walking into the wind with the sun still low on the horizon at our backs.  It’s the golden hour and everything has that amber glow. Birds have been hard to come by to this point in the hunt. I know dad really isn’t even thinking about hunting. But Wyatt and Rio are intent on bringing him back to the moment. A couple of hundred yards into this cover Rio begins creeping and pointing.  Wyatt runs in and flushes a rooster in front of me and I snap off a shot and fold it. At the report pheasant begin boiling everywhere. I’m standing in the middle of a rooster eruption. I can see dad from the corner of my eye soaking it in as more birds rise and I break open the action, reload and continue to shoot. 

The points and flushes extend the length of this new field forcing smiles to return to our faces. Just as we make the turn to head back with the wind the text comes in that Aunt Pat has had a successful procedure with minimal damage to her heart. The fears fully retreat to the dark recesses. When we return to the vehicle dad makes a call to confirm the good news as I begin to clean the birds. 

Some memories are sneaky and weasel their way into stories recounted year over year. But this is a memory that I know immediately will become a part of our hunting legend. These roosters, this hunt will be remembered as part of a miraculous bountiful field in a year of depressed numbers. A hunt where distraction was desperately needed and nature heeded the call. We often give nicknames to locations where we hunt and this new spot has become Aunt Pat’s Place.

The rest of the week is a true bonus since our hunt could have been over. We add plenty of other tales to recount. Rio ended up pointing her first covey of wild quail this year in Kansas. Hunting with Wyatt has given her new confidence and she stops pointing songbirds. And Wyatt sees how keen Rio’s nose is and begins keying in on some of her points giving hope that one day this contrasting duo will attain my vision. In a year when all our local friends said there wasn’t a pheasant in the county, we never went a day in Kansas without seeing a bird.   

More importantly this hunt reminds me that all our days afield are a gift that lend perspective to the other events of life. There’s not a day in the field where I want to take this for granted. Cherish the moments chasing birds with family, friends and dogs.

And we’re so blessed and thankful to have sponsors like Blackwood Pet Foods who recognize our goals and support our vision for upland hunting’s significance. 

Pluck it

It certainly is more convenient to breast out game birds. After a long day of hunting the bulk of uplanders look for the quickest way to clean birds and get them in the cooler. And if you have hunted for any length of time you probably have the breasting down to a science.

There are a number of recipes that call for whole bird preparation though. Most chefs would cringe at the idea of discarding the game bird skin which can become crispy goodness in the pan. So this season before standing on the wings and pulling on the legs to separate the upper and lower half of the bird, I encourage you to take a few extra moments and pluck a couple.

With pheasant, part of the challenge of plucking is that the skin tends to be very thin. From my experience, the best way to pluck a rooster and keep the most skin intact is to immediately begin defeathering as soon as it comes to hand. This isn’t practical in many hunting situations. But keep it in mind when you happen to harvest a bird on your walk back to the truck.

I like to reserve plucking for birds that are close to pristine; the ones I’ve somehow managed to put all the shot in the head and neck. These are the birds that can truly impress your non-hunting friends at the table.

Many states also have wanton waste regulations which make breasting birds a no no. Upland birds’ legs tend to have more tendon than meat, which is likely why there is hesitation to clean the whole bird. But the thighs of these birds are prime cuts (most grouse and pheasant included). So if plucking isn’t an option, take a few extra minutes and cuts to separate the thigh meat from the bone. It is well worth the time and will dramatically increase the amount of meat you get from a harvested bird with very little effort.

And just as a little extra incentive, here’s a recipe we just found. And now I need to find a chestnut tree.

 

Pheasant With Chestnuts

For pheasant:
2 garlic heads, peeled
1 pheasant, about 2-3 pounds
2 stems of thyme
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
For chestnuts:
2 tablespoons butter
12 chestnuts fresh or frozen
2 cups chicken stock
Salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Split the garlic heads in half and place in the pheasant cavity with the thyme, salt and pepper. Use butcher string to tie pheasant legs together. Place in roasting pan and cook at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.
Add butter to a large saute pan and melt on medium heat. Add chestnuts and chicken stock. Simmer until soft, but not broken. Remove and season with salt.Meanwhile, prepare chestnuts.

To serve, place pheasant on a platter with hot chestnuts.
Makes 2 servings.
Approximate values per serving: 948 calories, 52 g fat, 322 mg cholesterol, 98 g protein, 22 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 4,230 mg sodium, 49 percent calories from fat.

Note: Recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of salt to rub on pheasant before roasting. If you change that to 1 teaspoon, the total sodium amount would be 1,905 mg sodium.

Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/style/hfe/20121023pheasant-chestnuts.html#ixzz2AKHBP0AH

Pheasant Defying Drought….. For Now

There has been a lot of news about the terribly dry conditions across the bulk of the country this year. This news sparked many early negative predictions for the upland populations.

If you read much about the lifecycle of upland birds though, most don’t require much water when they are young. So unlike harsh winters which will have devastating kill-off effects on game or extremely wet nesting months which will ruin hatches, drought may be a preferable weather catastrophe if there is such a thing.

A mild winter followed by a warm spring contributed to a significant increase in Minnesota’s pheasant count, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The pheasant population index increased 68 percent from 2011. Pheasant hunters are expected to harvest about 290,000 roosters this fall. That’s up from last year’s estimated harvest of 204,000 but roughly half the number taken during the 2005-2008 seasons when hunting was exceptionally good.

Article



The pheasants-per-mile index for 2012 is 4.21, up 18 percent from the 3.57 index of 2011.

“The mild winter of 2011-12 was the boost we needed for pheasant survival and reproductive potential,” said Jeff Vonk, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, in a news release. “It goes to show that, with the combination of good habitat and the right weather conditions, pheasants can be quite prolific.”

Article



The Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) 2012 August Upland Wildlife Roadside Survey shows the statewide pheasant population has increased 16 percent when compared to last year.

“We expected to see an increase after the first mild winter in five years and we have, but it will take another two to three years of good weather for the population to fully recover from five straight years of heavy snow and cool wet springs,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist for the DNR.

The average birds counted per 30 mile route statewide increased from 6.8 birds to 8 birds in 2012. The highest pheasant counts per route are in the northwest region, with 16, central region, with 13, and north central region with 10. The survey also showed an increase in the number of partridge and quail, while cottontail numbers were unchanged.

Article


Though the dry conditions may not have impacted the nesting and hatch survival I believe the danger lies ahead. The poor grain production and sparse harvest caused by the drought may be the downfall of this fall’s upswing in gamebird numbers. With less grain to fatten up on in the autumn, it could be a very tough winter for the birds. So though I’m happy to hear about a rebound in numbers I still have a sneaky suspicion that we haven’t seen this drought fully play out just yet.

The Top 3 Wild Pheasant Hunting Tips

There are tons of variables involved when pheasant hunting: weather, dogs, number of hunters, blockers, terrain, time of day….. the list is almost endless. But regardless of these elements, there are 3 things you can always use that will improve your success against the wily wild rooster.

The bird hunters’ opening day is also most pheasants’ first day of school. According to some USGS studies, the annual mortality rates for pheasant can exceed 70%, this includes hunting, natural predation, and carrying capacity of the land. As a result, the bulk of the birds in the field will be seeing their first hunter at the beginning of the season, and even though their brain is roughly the size of a pea, the ringneck is a fast learner. This enables hunters to get away with a lot of blunders on the first day that no longer fly as the season progresses.

#1) Shhhhhhhhhh

The single most overlooked aspect of pheasant hunting is probably noise. When big game hunters pursue animals, they strive for silence. Fox, coyote and bobcat don’t scream like Braveheart prior to pouncing on a pheasant. Nature’s pheasant hunters employ noiseless tactics that have been refined over centuries of the chase for a reason.

The element of surprise seems counter-intuitive to upland bird hunting because the concept of simultaneously sneaking up on a bird and busting through cover are contradictory. However, this misinterpretation of stalking is the very problem that leads to your hunting partners slamming car doors, hollering jabs back and forth in the field, whistling directions to dogs, and rumbling like a herd of buffalo across the plains.

While it’s unlikely you’ll manage launching a perfect sneak on a pheasant in cover, you or your dog do have a better chance at getting within range before he’s shifted to high alert and runs out of the county if you’re more conscientious of your decibel level.

Just test this theory out hunting late in the season and at your first field of the morning (and remember to bring your binoculars ): Climb out of your vehicle, slam your car door and give the birds a big “Good Morning Ringnecks!”. The educated birds who’ve navigated the gauntlet throughout the season will be flying, or more likely running, out the opposite end of the field.

Stealth is a weapon at your disposal. Use it and you will get more shooting opportunities.

#2) Slow-down

After years of sprinting across all sorts of terrain and cover chasing wild roosters, it finally sunk in. The pheasant can do more than outrun me, he can also triumphantly outspeed my best shot and, in most cases, my dog.  Wild pheasants will fly as a last resort of escape and it’s much tougher to learn this axiom while hunting with large groups or blockers who invariably give roosters few options. However, if you attempt to hunt solo or with limited boots on the ground the pheasant’s affinity for running will quickly become clear. Regardless of your group size, these birds do not want to take flight if they don’t have to. I’ve seen hoards of hunters on coordinated drives with 40-yard separations, and birds still manage to back flush on them.

Chasing after a bird or your dog in hot pursuit of a runner rarely accomplishes a flush within gun range. In fact, the alerted bird can maintain a steady lead on both you and your dogs. While it’s possible you may get that pheasant to eventually hold for a point, it is more likely that the rooster will flush wild. In the process of running down just one bird, you’ve now alerted every bird in the field, run past the bulk of them and gassed yourself and your dog.

Pheasant were built to run. Barring miserable weather conditions or terrain and cover that stand in their way, they will outpace you regardless of your hunting party’s actions and the faster you work, the more likely you are to pass by the pheasants which are holding.

The trump card the hunter holds is unpredictability. Slow your pace, take random strides. Stop. Listen. Change direction. Stride some more. Think of it from the rooster’s perspective.  If you pass by one of these birds while sprinting to some imaginary finish line, he’s breathing a sigh of relief. But, if you happen to pass one, stop, change directions, stop again……… he thinks the jig is up. Better still is when you coordinate this random movement with your dogs who invariably will pin down and point or flush more birds well within gun range.

In this way, pheasant hunting is like chess: the more erratic and deceptive your movements, the more likely you are to win.

#3) Cover all cover

It is shocking how little vegetation pheasant really need to conceal themselves. When in hand, the size and garish coloring create an illusion of colossus. But give them two blades of grass and they become magicians capable of invisibility.

Hunters are lulled into thinking that sparse cover can’t hold a bird. However, I assure you that it can and will. Convinced my dog was crazy, I witnessed pheasants erupt out of wheat stubble 4″ tall, so dumbstruck by the location that I had no hope of shouldering my gun. Dozens of times I’ve been within a few paces of the vehicle, within feet of exiting a field, unloading and securing the shotgun, only to have a rooster light from under my boot.

Pheasants don’t want to fly, and when there’s nowhere left to run, they resort to an amazing camouflage pattern that can fuse with a milo stalk or a sprig of buffalo grass equally well. The only answer to the camouflage conundrum is to maintain discipline and expect the unexpected. Keep your gun at the ready until you fully exit the field.

Once you lower the decibels, take your time and work the entire field your chances to outsmart even the wildest rooster will increase exponentially.

Though I said this was going to be 3 tips, always remember the next best advice is Trust Your Dog; a topic that would require and entire novel to cover.