Rough ring-necked pheasant hunts: Minnesota’s public land holds some roosters, but don’t expect easy shooting

Peterson and his hunting partner, Seth Olson (shown here), spent three days plying public land in Minnesota for pheasants recently. The birds were cagey, the hunting was tough, but it was still worth it.

When my buddy Seth and I rolled up to the first slough, we were brimming with anticipation. The sky was cloudy, the wind picking up, and before us lay a couple hundred acres of prime rooster habitat. We were well into the morning when I finally noticed my Lab showing some scent-induced enthusiasm. I was standing on glare ice, so I quickly stepped onto a patch of sawgrass.

A second later, the ringneck broke from the cattails, but he didn’t make it too far into the air before flying into a wall of pellets. It was a welcome start to the hunt, but didn’t portend good things to come. Seth and I pounded through that slough, missed a few cagey flushers, and drove to some walk-in ground.

Birds flushed as soon as our boots hit the grass, and while we put plenty of hens in the air, it wasn’t until we surprised a lone, long-spurred rooster in a small woodlot that we added another bird to the bag. He rounded out our two-bird day, and we made a plan for the rest of our time.

Unfortunately, the weather stabilized, the wind died to nothing and the temps crept upward. Every time we started into a birdy-looking spot, we knew most of the roosters were running out the other end. Occasionally, they flew. We did surprise another bird that made a horrible decision to mill around in 6-inch-high grass just over a slight rise.

After that, the pheasants didn’t make any more mistakes. We tried to pinch them, sneak up on them, and generally let our Labs perform. But the birds got the best of us, and what made things worse was that it was so wet we couldn’t get to some of the best-looking cover – at least not without going swimming.

What started out so promising ended up being like an awful lot of public land hunts – frustrating, yet punctuated by just enough hope and random action to keep two pheasant hunters and their dogs walking all day long. As Seth and I walked out of the last slough with empty game bags, we made plans to return next winter. Here’s hoping with much colder temperatures and about eight inches of fresh powder.

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