The ring-necked pheasant, also known as common pheasant, was introduced into North America from Asia and has established itself over much of the continent, especially in agricultural regions, specifically cultivated ground interspersed with hedges, grass ditches, marshes, brushy groves, and woodland borders. It is a very distinctive and colorful species and is a popular game bird.
Figure 1 “Photo” A male Ring-necked Pheasant in it’s natural environment.
Ring-necked pheasants are medium to large birds about the size of a chicken, with a long tail, often held cocked at an angle. Their wings are rather long and rounded in flight. Males (roosters) have a red face patch on an iridescent green head with lighter tufts on top of and in back of their eyes. They have a white ring around the neck and a maroon breast. The flanks tend to be a golden orange with a brown tail that is long and pointed, with dark barring. They have a gray rump and a spur halfway down the leg. The females (hens) are a mottled brown with small black spots on back, with a long pointed tail that is brown with black barring
The juveniles look like the female, with young males showing some adult patterning by two months. According to DNR wildlife research biologists, pheasants follow a schedule. Understanding the pheasant’s daily movements can increase your odds of flushing a rooster.
Pheasants start their day before sunrise at roost sites, usually in areas of short- to medium-height grass or weeds. At first light, pheasants head for roadsides or similar areas where they can find gravel or grit.
Pheasants usually begin feeding in the early morning. When shooting hours begin a few hours later, the birds are still feeding, often in grain fields while cautiously making their way toward safe cover.
By mid-morning, pheasants have left the fields for the densest, thickest cover they can find, such as a standing corn, federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields, brush patches, wetlands, or native grasses to hunker down there for the day until late afternoon. Other likely locations during midday are ditch banks and deep marshes. Keep in mind: The harsher the weather, the deeper into the cover the pheasant will go.
But eventually, pheasants have to eat again. During the late afternoon, the birds move from their hiding spots back to the feeding areas. As in the morning, birds are easier to spot from a distance and are more accessible to hunters. That’s why the first and last shooting hours are consistently the best times to hunt pheasants.
Nature status : Ring-neck pheasants are not endangered, but their numbers are declining due to changes in farming practices. When hunting pheasants in the wild only the roosters can be shot. There are many game farms where hunting the roosters and the hens are allowed.
Natural predators : Ring-necked pheasants have many natural predators which include but are not limited to: Coyotes, foxes, owls, crows, hawks, skunks, and raccoons. These animals don’t all kill adult pheasants, some raid nest sites of eggs and young birds.
Life span : The average life span of a wild Ring-neck pheasant is 10-20 months.
Habitat : Pheasants prefer fields and farmlands with brushy cover, though they also inhabit woodland undergrowth and some wetlands. Pheasants are most comfortable on the ground, where they forage for seeds, grains, berries, insects, and, sometimes, small animals.
Figure 2 “Photo” John MacCallum with a nice Ring-necked pheasant that he harvested in New Jersey.
Hunting : Pheasant hunting doesn’t require a lot of specialized or expensive equipment, but there are some basic items that will make your time in the field more enjoyable and productive. Bring along a shotgun that you have practiced with and are comfortable shooting. The style or gauge of the shotgun is not nearly as important as your proficiency with it. Pheasants are fairly tough birds, so you will want to choose a heavier load such as 4 or 5 shot and limit your shooting distances to 50 yards or less. You should also be aware that if you are hunting on federal land, non-toxic shot is required.
In almost all states pheasant hunters are required to wear at least one visible article of clothing above the waist that is blaze orange. This could be a hat, jacket or hunting vest. Remember that more blaze orange will make you more visible to other hunters. Pheasant hunting involves lots of walking on uneven terrain. Good quality, above-the-ankle boots will provide the comfort and support needed for a long day in the field. While a dog is not required to hunt pheasants, a well-trained hunting dog will increase the number of opportunities you have to harvest birds and provide a good companion while in the field.
Shotguns : The type of shotguns used for pheasant hunting is more of a personal choice. The thing to remember is you will be in the field for a long time walking in mid-to-high grasses, so the lighter the shotgun the more comfortable your day will be. Since most shots are under 50 yards a good 20 gauge or 12 gauge shotgun is most commonly used.
Archery : Though not very common some archers enjoy the challenge of hunting pheasants with a bow and arrow. A recurve or long bow is the best choice of bow and an arrow with “flu flu” fletching, named for it resemblance to the cleaning brush for a chimney flu, that limits the arrows flight to about 30-40 yards for easier arrow recovery, is used.
Method : A wide variety of methods can be used when hunting ring-necked pheasants. This is probably one of the reason pheasant hunting appeals to so many people. A lone hunter can usually hunt field edges, fencerows and small weed patches. Larger blocks of cover such as standing cornfields, cattail marshes, and large waterways may be difficult for one person to cover.
Several hunters working together not only find more birds, but sharing the outdoor experience with good friends can be a very rewarding part of the hunt. Larger hunting parties have found that they can bag more birds if they post “blockers” at the far end of the field, this helps contain birds that seem prone to running or flushing wild.
For many hunters, it just isn’t a pheasant hunt unless you have a good bird dog along. A well-trained dog is a tremendous help in locating and retrieving crafty ring-necks, and will add to your pheasant hunting experience.