Chances are if you’ve been out pheasant hunting already this year and had success, many of those birds are young-of-the-year pheasants. Some never get the chance to wise up to hunting pressure, but it’s more a numbers thing – the average lifespan of the ring-necked pheasant is less than one year.
Where there were successful early hatches, roosters may look close to fully plumed. Later hatches equal juvenile birds that are small and scraggily. But how can you tell exactly how old – or young – these birds are?
Stretch a wing outward from the bird’s body. See the 10 inner and 10 outer most flight feathers? The outer feathers are called “primaries,” and they tell the bird’s age. Primaries are molted (replaced) in an orderly and timely manner. First, the inner most and shortest primary (number 1) drops out. When the new feather growing in number 1′s spot is half grown, number 2 drops out. When number 1 is 3/4 grown and number 2 is 1/2 grown, number 3 drops out. This sequence proceeds through all 10 primaries. During the first week of the hunting season, most young roosters are working on 8, 9, and 10. If 8, 9 and 10 are fully grown, that bird is more than one year old and may need more time in the crock pot.
Try holding the rooster only by the tip of its lower bill (thumb inside mouth, forefinger underneath bill tip). With the bird dangling below your hold, open the bird’s mouth as wide as possible by turning the lower bill 90 degrees to the dangling body. On an old bird, the bill will support the weight. On a young bird, the bill will bend or may even break. While unproven, this method is accepted by some game managers.
2 and 3 Year Old Roosters
Tail length? Spur Length? Weight? In actuality, aging older roosters is kind of like aging Dominican baseball players – your guess is as good as any. There is almost no way to tell 2-year old, 3-year old and, in extremely rare instances, 4-year old roosters apart.
Aging a rooster isn’t the most important part of your hunt. But knowing can make the difference in determining how the pheasants in your area are behaiving.