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Get close to wary roosters

Douglas County Pheasants Forever president Dean Krebs busts through some heavy snow during a recent pheasant hunt in North Dakota. (Contributed)

The days to chase pheasants are dwindling with only a couple weeks left in the 2013 season, but some memorable hunts are still there for the taking for hunters who like the challenge of hunting wary roosters.

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Finding the birds generally isn’t an issue this time of year. Getting close to them? That can be a different story, but there are ways to close the gap for hunters who are willing to battle the conditions and change their tactics from the way they chase birds in the early season.

Douglas County Pheasants Forever president Dean Krebs just got back home from a North Dakota pheasant hunt where he and his party shot birds while battling snow and temperatures that dipped as low at 21 below zero.

The first order of business in conditions like that is staying warm. That’s easier than most think as long as a few rules are followed. Dress in warm layers with as little skin exposed as possible from head to toe. The body will take care of the rest with the amount of energy exerted pushing through snow and oftentimes thick cover. Now the focus is on finding some roosters.

WHERE TO FIND BIRDS

One thing late-season snow falls tend to do is congregate birds into specific areas.

The grasslands that were great in October likely aren’t the spots to hit anymore. Thicker cover amongst those fields and near food sources will be the ticket to finding birds.

“It’s not the same type of hunting as early-season hunting because the grasslands are usually out of play,” Krebs said. “When you have snow on the ground, you focus on where your thermal cover is near food. Those are the two things you need: food and some type of thick cover like cattails, willows or shelterbelts.”

The snow will serve as the greatest indicator with the amount of pheasant tracks on the ground giving hunters a good idea as to how many birds are in the area.

GETTING CLOSE

Finding pheasants at this time of year is one thing but getting close is another.

Any hunter who has chased roosters in late December has likely witnessed the familiar scene of pheasants pealing out the end of a slough or shelterbelt when they step out of the truck.

“They’re really jumpy this time of year,” Krebs said. “They’re aware of pressure. They’ve been hunted already, so we typically like to hunt them like deer.”

That means being as quiet as possible. Krebs likes to hunt in smaller parties simply because they make less noise.

“I firmly believe that there is no point in time during the year that you go pheasant hunting and put one foot in the field that they’re in and they don’t know you’re there,” he said. “They know you’re in there. At this time of year, there’s no slamming doors. No driving on the property you’re going to hunt. If we’re going to hunt a piece, we park a quarter-mile before and walk. We don’t holler at our dogs. We don’t whistle at our dogs. Our shock collars have tones on them so there’s just no noise. We use hand signals for everything.”

PINCH OR POST

Pinching and posting are popular tactics when trying to get birds to flush within shooting range.

It can be hard to pinpoint where to post when hunting bigger cattail sloughs. It can also be boom or bust for those posting when it comes to getting shot opportunities.

“Pinching works, I think, a lot better,” Krebs said. “We did that to perfection on our hunt to North Dakota. We had a strip of corn that was maybe 75 yards wide and 400 yards long. Put three guys on each end and walk toward each other. When we got 100 yards apart, there were birds all over. That seems to work, and you’re shooting birds along the way as well.”

Knowing where each hunter is and where each person can safely shoot is important in both posting and pinching situations. When done properly, both ways can be the difference between an early flush and a bird in the hand.

It might take a little more strategy to pull off a late-season limit as the final days of December tick away. That just makes it all the more rewarding when it happens.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

(320) 763-1229
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