Winter hunting for pheasants is a tough affair, but if you know what you are doing it can be very
rewarding. Snow alone has pushed the birds into smaller areas. In October pheasants can be found almost anywhere in reasonable cover, but in December much of their habitat is choked with snow. In Montana pheasants gravitate toward creek bottoms adjacent to grain fields. In North Dakota I found pheasants many times in the cattails of frozen sloughs.
Roosters are longtailed and feathered out this late in the season. It is time for 12 or 16 gauge
guns and heavy loads of No. 4 lead shot in the best shells money can buy—no cheap promotional shells for late season roosters.
Some of my fondest memories of pheasant hunting are of excited Labradors charging through cattails in December when the marshes are frozen and more accessible than in October. They make a racket, snorting and sniffing out roosters. I remember my Otis-dog booting roosters out of a cattail swamp in northeastern Montana one time and me clobbering three roosters in as much time as it takes to talk about it. I have fond memories of other years when Bruno and Josie, long deceased Labradors, crashed into cattails in North Dakota and Montana and flushed long-tailed roosters that protested loudly as they thrashed away. Some of them we killed dead in a gentle puff of feathers; others we missed; some flushed out of range, but it was all memorable and one of the wonderful facets of late season pheasant hunting.
Fine game bird that the pheasant is, many people are unaware of the ring-necked pheasant’s
origin, as they are not native to North America. The story is that in 1881 the judge Owen Denny, American consul general in Shanghai obtained 28 pheasants and released them in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Two years later Denny released another batch of birds, establishing a pheasant population that would result in 50,000 roosters taken by hunters within the decade.
Pheasants have been planted in every state in the Union but they thrive in the upper Midwestern prairie states. The Dakotas are as good a pheasant country as anywhere. South Dakota reportedly had a pheasant population of between 15 and 30 million birds in the 1940s! How anyone could estimate a pheasant population is beyond my comprehension, but that country did indeed have a lot of birds!
My father told me many times of days in the late 1940s when he could fill the trunk of a car with pheasants while driving between Solen and Mandan. “They were everywhere,” he said.
North Dakota had a heyday of pheasant numbers a decade ago that was reminiscent of those old days. I hunted near Richardton and Scranton a decade ago and saw pheasant numbers that were unbelievable! The reduction in CRP acreage has taken a toll on birds these days, as has drought and last year’s bad winter, but North Dakota still is one of the top pheasant states in the U.S.
Dress up, get the dog out there and concentrate on those cattail sloughs. Watch the dogs get
“birdy”, and follow them through the snow. Few hunters will be out there except you and your dogs, and some very smart late-season roosters.
Contact Bernie Kuntz at b.kuntz@