If you’re lucky enough to hunt late-season ringnecks, it’s tougher…including the equipment it takes to put bigger, tougher birds in your game bag.
Ed. Note: Tom Cappell is a veteran shooter, hunter and writer from Missouri whose views on the outdoors and the outdoors industry are thought-provoking and always responsible. His columns have previously appeared on Press Pros, sponsored by Olde English Outfitters, in Tipp City.
By Tom Cappell
In a conversation this week with this website’s publisher, I asked about the seeming interest for pheasant hunting, as that content appears regularly throughout the season on Press Pros.
And I admit…it’s a topic near and dear to my heart because I grew up in the heart of pretty good pheasant country and enjoy winters days chasing roosters with my Springer Spaniel, “Scotch”, to this day. After forty years I think I have a tip or two to share.
Two of my Missouri neighbors just returned from western Kansas pheasants last week, so I asked, “How was the hunting?”
“The hunting was fine,” said one. “The shooting part was a different matter. The same birds we shot just fine back in October just kept flying this time. I guess we didn’t shoot very well. And when we did knock ‘em down we had to do a lot of chasing.”
This, of course, is a very familiar tune to veteran pheasant hunters. Late-season birds have always been a far greater challenge. December birds are smarter…because they’ve been shot at. They’re heavier…because they’ve had an extra six weeks to feed and mature. And they’re tougher to bring down…because they have a heavier layer of feathers, and more fat under those feathers – insulation!
In short, if you want to have success shooting pheasants in December, anywhere, make sure you’re using the right medicine for the patient.
In the case of my friends, the first question I asked was about ammunition.
“We had some high brass #6s left over from the last trip,” said one. “We wanted to use them up and save some money.”
Perhaps not the best choice. Here’s why.
Late-season birds that you killed cleanly with #6 shot in October now require either heavier shot, #5s or #4s, or faster shells (1350 per second)…or both. For the past couple of years I’ve been using the Fiocchi Golden Pheasant load in 16 gauge #5s and it’s done a great job – faster (1350) – and heavier (1 1/8 ozs. #5s).
And sub-gauge guns, like 16s and 20s do fine for late hunting with the correct loads…if there’s no wind. But if it’s blowing 20 mph or better, better think about a heavier gun.
I had that very experience last year in Nebraska – cold and windy, and the lighter guns simply were not bringing down the hard-to-kill roosters.
In cases like that I always move up to a 12 gauge and in this case I used the new Federal Prairie Storm shells (fast and heavy) and they did a superb job.
But Prairie Storms are also $20 a box (or more the farther you get from competitive retail), and if you’re budget conscious, like me, you can get along great with traditional high brass loads (1330 feet with 11/4 oz of #4s or #5s). I’ve used Fiocci recently, but my old standard for nearly 30 years has been the Remington Express shell and they do a good job while putting $5 back in your pocket.
Another value, if you reload your own shells, the Remington hulls are stiff, they crimp easily, and easily withstand multiple reloads. It makes for an enjoyable post-season hobby for me and my two sons.
A final note – almost every manufacturer now features shells with plated shot, either nickel or copper. It is more expensive, but it’s worth the investment because plated shot has less deformity, holds patterns better in the wind, and gives you cleaner and more predictable kills. If you’re spending good money for a great late-season hunt, why would scrimp with shells on sale at Wal-Mart?
Seriously, an ounce of “cure” eliminates all worries about prevention of cripples and lost birds when it comes to late-season pheasants. Now that you know all you’ve got to do…is shoot straight!
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