While the fine folks in Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado may disagree, I consider December 1st the beginning of late season pheasant hunting. By now, most states’ roosters have been flushed a time or two. Many have evaded canines and errant shooting. Along with the birds’ “education,” I believe the arrival of snow changes the game for bird dog and hunter. As I write this evening, I’ve just finished packing for a South Dakota pheasant trip where 6 to 8 inches of snow is expected to fall by the time I arrive. Here are some of the flurries in my head:
Only opening day fills me with more excitement than the morning after the season’s first snow fall. It’s been my experience the birds move to thermal cover (cattails, thickets, willows, shelter belts, etc.) as soon as the snow falls and they hold tight that first morning. For a hunter with a close working pup, it can be magical. The other benefit of a fresh snow is the ability to see tracks. Not only can you locate where the birds are, you can also eliminate where they’re not. I don’t know about you, but when I know the birds are there, I focus better on being ready and shoot with more accuracy.
In my opinion, snow that’s been on the ground long enough to develop an icy crust creates the most difficult conditions to hunt. Not only does it make the walking tough, but each step is a warning blast to “educated” roosters planning their escape hundreds of yards out of your gun’s reach.
I have short legs for busting cattails. However, I am just tall enough to get poked right in the face with every pointed cattail spear. I also have a long-legged grassland running pointing dog ill-suited to busting cattails. Cattails are my least favorite part of pheasant hunting. No matter how much I protest, I know one simple fact: pheasants love cattails sloughs, especially in the winter.
Like any hunter, I am very focused on keeping my hands warm enough to have a good feel on my shotgun. I’ve found that these leather trophy gloves keep me warm on days with temps into the single digits. If it drops below zero, then I keep the leather trophy glove on my trigger hand and jump up to a heavier wool glove for my other hand.
I also battle with being warm enough to comfortably start the day’s hunt, but also try to prevent dressing so warm that I start sweating heavily during the hunt. This isn’t a major issue if you’re just hunting one spot all day, but most of the time I hunt multiple spots in a day and have to jump in the truck to get from spot one to two to three; try staying warm as you emerge from the truck to hunt spot #3 with a sweaty back and soaked clothes. Certainly Under Armour and merino wool base layers that wick moisture away from your body have made major advances; however, I am still a firm believer that the key is layering. The minute I start to feel a little too warm, I yank off a jacket and tie it to my game vest. I probably average five different layers of clothing on a cold weather day of hunting.
Ice Covered Utopia
Hard water isn’t just for ice fishermen anymore. Frozen ground opens up acres upon acres of public ground and roosters that have been protected by those hunters in fear of soggy feet for the first couple months of the season.
If forced to choose between early season and late season, I admit to being an early season October and November fan first. That being said, I’d certainly rather it be late season than the off season. So here I come snowy South Dakota. I’ve got my Stormy Kromer, a new pair of gloves and a box of Prairie Storm.
If you can survive the cold and you have these hunting tips in mind, you’re sure to enjoy you next winter pheasant hunt.
The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever’s Vice President of Marketing.