After a lot of grumbling about misleading, rash reports from hunters in previous surveys, I cautiously predicted in the October 24 column that this should be a good pheasant season. In summing up the potential for this season, my exact words were, “while it won’t be one of those boom years, hunters should find enough roosters in the coverts to keep them happy.”

At the time this report is being prepared, 10 hunting days have come and gone in the 1997 season. I hunted the pheasant coverts for seven of those 10 days, talked with other hunters at the same time and generally tried to get a handle on the season. Based on these activities and scouting on weekends and days I wasn’t hunting, I’ve concluded that this season is much better than last. There are two reasons for this conclusion:

  1. My record of hunts, which include hours in the field, birds flushed bagged, etc. These records indicate that while hunting the same number of days this season as last, my pheasant harvest has almost tripled. I’ve found birds in every covert I’ve checked, including areas where pheasant have been scarce in recent seasons.
  2. Every hunter I’ve talked with reports similar findings. Good numbers of pheasants in most coverts and birds in areas that were practically barren the past two or three seasons.

Another excellent indicator is the high number of young birds hunters are harvesting this year. Last season I bagged a lot of what we call second season or mature roosters. This year my kills have been mostly first-year birds and other hunters are reporting the same results. This can be taken to indicate there was a good nesting season, which is a precursor to a good hunting season. It also means that more older roosters should survive the hunting onslaught to seed next season’s stock of huntable pheasants.

While there are early indications of a good, perhaps even excellent pheasant season, this won’t be one of those super years. The booms years when pheasants were plentiful are gone and will never be seen them again. Changing coverts, changing farming practice, increased hunting pressure and other factors have reduced pheasant numbers and it’s unlikely the population will ever recover.

One good thing about pheasant hunting today is the increasing use of bird dogs. I see that more hunters are discovering the pleasures inherent in hunting with dogs. Once only a small percentage of upland and waterfowl hunters used bird dogs but nowadays they’re common. Today it’s becoming more unusual to see an upland hunter without a bird dog.

Obviously, from a conservation angle bird dogs make a lot of sense. The immediate result of using a dog is that fewer birds are killed to fill bag limits. A trained bird dog picks up a lot of crippled birds that otherwise would be lost.

The use of a dog enhances the outdoor experience, adding an element that makes any kind of bird hunting a pure joy.

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