Cold Weather Pheasants

I could feel the bite of the north wind on my face as I struggled to break trail through the deep snow. I was exercising my fingers inside my gloves to maintain feeling as my bird dog Timber, playfully skimmed along the top of the crusted snow. However, for me, every step was a chore but I had to keep pace and maintain a good shooting position.

Due to the cold temperatures, to conserve energy the pheasants were holding tight to their chosen cover. It wasn’t until Timber was right on top of them before they would break from their cover and take to the safety of the sky. But once a colorful ring-necked pheasant did fly, my numb face and frozen fingers were quickly forgotten as I raised my shotgun to my shoulder, found the pheasant in flight, and squeezed the trigger.

Timber retrieves a couple nice snow pheasants the day after a snowstorm went through.

There’s nothing like a fall day in the field hunting ring-necked pheasant. I appreciate spending time in the field with my bird dog by my side during fair-weather pheasant hunts. However, once the temperature drops to freezing conditions and snow covers the ground, that’s when I get really excited to head afield for a little pheasant hunting.

Before the Snow Flies

Under normal fall weather conditions pheasants are often milling around feeding, scratching, and even socializing. But as the weather cools and the clouds move in, pheasants are on the move taking in as much feed as they can. During these pre-storm conditions is when a hunter will see large number of pheasants and it will often be one of the best shoots of the season. The reason why a hunter has lots of encounters before the snow flies is simple. Similar to big game animals, prior to a cold front a pheasant’s instinct is to feed aggressively and for as long as they can in preparation for the cold weather. During these conditions, hunters should concentrate their hunting efforts around high protein feeding areas such as grain, corn, and pea fields. I’ve also had incredible success near farmers’ grain bins. Pheasant will gorge themselves on the spilled feed around the bins and if there’s quality cover, the birds will rarely venture far away from these areas.

Hunting pheasants in the deep snow after a cold front can be hard work but well worth the rewards.

Once the Snow Flies

While Mother Nature throws a fit, pheasants will hold tight to cover conserving energy and living off their reserves. Like other wild animals, pheasants will take to thick cover for protection from the elements. During this time, a pheasant will not move unless they absolutely have too. And it’s not uncommon for pheasants to hold up for days if need be. That’s what makes hunting cold weather pheasants challenging. Hunters should focus their attention around the thickest of cover. Your bird dog is your lifeline during these conditions. Your dogs may even be a bit confused as pheasants may be reluctant to fly in the poorest of conditions and it’s not uncommon for dogs to pick up a live pheasant.

I’ve found pheasants holding at the base of trees, in crevasses, swaths, in thick brush, and two of my favorite snow hunting locations is in and around agriculture equipment, and in deep holes in the snow itself. Wherever they can get protection from the elements is where you will find them, even if they’re not common pheasant hiding locations. And they will not break from the cover until you or your dog is on top of them.

Before and after a cold front, hunters should focus on high protein feeding areas such as corn, grain, and peas.

Once you locate snow pheasants and because they’re reluctant to fly until the last minute, shots are often within close range and even close to the ground. Hunters will need to be mindful of where their dog is and you may even want to lighten you shot. If a bird is missed, pay close attention to their flight path as they usually don’t spend much time in the cold air. During cold conditions, pheasants may only fly 60 or 70 yards then take to the ground for cover again. I’ve even had them fly a mere 20 yards, land and quickly run into cover. This lack of movement is to conserve energy and maintain warmth. Instinctively, they gorged themselves before the cold front moved in but they have no idea how long it will last. Therefore, it’s also instinct to conserve energy until the weather breaks.  

Once the Weather Breaks

The longer it stays cold and the more snow the better. Like I mentioned above, pheasants can run off their body reserves for several days if need be, however, once the weather breaks the only thing on a pheasant’s mind is to feed and replenish their reserves. Pheasants and many other game birds will congregate back to the high protein feeding areas. That initial feeding after the weather breaks pheasants will feed aggressively. In doing so, they drop their guard as they feed. This allows a hunter to get much closer before they take to the safety of the sky. These are excellent hunting opportunities for new or first time wing shooters as roosters are easy to pick out against the fresh white background, and most shots are close range. This is also a great time for pheasant hunters that don’t have the aid of a bird dog. It’s almost like spot-and-stalk pheasant hunting.

The colors really come out in the rosters with a snow background.

Once the pheasants get a belly full of high protein feed, they will rest and sun themselves right in their food source. This resting feeding pattern will last for a few days before the pheasants fall back into their regular routines. However, hunters should keep a close eye and ear on the weather reports. If another cold front is moving in which is very common during the late fall season, the ring-necks may be starting the cold weather cycle all over.

Properly dressing for cold weather pheasant hunting and understanding what’s happening to the pheasants before, during, and after a cold front, a pheasant hunter can not only hunt during poor weather conditions, they can be very successful.

Wes David is a speaker, outdoor freelance writer and wildlife photographer based in Alberta, Canada. He can be reached at .



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