The state Game, Fish and Parks Department will conclude its pheasant brood survey on Wednesday. While the final report is not intended to be a true population estimate, many hunters view it that way. In fact, the report, which is traditionally unveiled around Labor Day weekend, is heralded as the “unofficial official” kickoff to pheasant season.
But if you’ve waited until mid- to late August to kick off your pheasant season, you’re already a day late and a dollar short. If you wait around for a report to tell you how many roosters, hens and chicks wildlife officials record on predetermined routes before you make your hunting plans for this fall, you’re missing the point.
No matter the year, a limit of pheasants never magically appears on your doorstep or hits your windshield as soon as you head out hunting. Success in the pheasant fields — just like in the deer stand or the duck blind — takes work, and the work should have already started.
Do the leg work
Regardless of which direction numbers are trending, pheasant hunting starts with a mindset. Wild birds are growing smarter and wilder each year, and if there are fewer birds on the landscape than last year, you’d better make up your mind that you’ll be ready to go the extra mile for your birds.
To go the extra mile, your dog needs to be in tip-top hunting shape prior to the season’s opening bell. Temperatures will likely still be in the 70s and 80s at times in mid- to late October. An overweight, out-of-shape pet is exponentially more susceptible to heat stress than a properly conditioned gun dog.
Too many hunters expect their dogs to be rock stars right out of the gate, even if the dogs have seen nothing but the inside of a kennel for the last nine months. With pheasant season only two months away, there’s still time to knock some rust off your dog prior to the season.
If you plan on walking or running your dog in town this time of year to get it back in shape, remember that concrete sidewalks and asphalt roads can really heat up during a sunny day and can hurt or burn a dog’s pads. If you wouldn’t walk on it barefoot, then it’s too hot for your dog.
If you run your dog in a cover, keep in mind that most types of cover actually trap heat and humidity. So, on an 80-degree day it’s likely going to feel more like 90 or 95 degrees to your dog as it meanders through the cover.
In addition to walks and field work, even backyard sessions where simple obedience commands — sit, stay, heel, come, kennel — are reinforced and will start reprogramming your dog’s brain into performance mode.
These are also ideal situations to get the entire family involved, as kids enjoy getting outside and helping train their dogs. Plus, it gives them an opportunity to see their house pet transform into a gun dog, doing what it was bred to do.
Being in shape goes for pheasant hunters, too. Early season treks through even light cover can take their toll on an out-of-shape hunter’s lungs, joints and muscles, and it’s easy to forget how difficult it is to bust through heavy cover such as cattails and waist-deep CRP.
Not being able to finish a walk or having to quit a hunt early because you or your dog are out of shape is completely avoidable, so start preparing now for the physical aspects of pheasant season.