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Wednesday, February 28th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Wednesday, February 28th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Here’s how to cut down on the number of wounded roosters you lose

Losing wounded birds happens, but some losses are avoidable. Marking where you shot from, and then working the dogs into the wind for a recovery, is a great start. It’s also a good idea to relax, and really let the dogs sort out the scent. (Contributed photo)

If there was a contest between upland birds across the country to determine which species has the strongest will to survive, first place would go to the pheasant. Quail, grouse of various varieties, prairie chickens, and the rest of them would all have to fight for second place. It wouldn’t even be close.

Nothing will put you, and your dogs, through the wringer quite like a wounded rooster. He’ll run if he can, hide if he needs to, and often figure out how to fly once again after you’d swear that his wings had been rendered useless by a load of No. 4s.

Lost birds happen to the best hunters and the best dogs, but there are some things pheasant hunters can do to minimize the chances of one getting away. This all starts with ensuring you have a proper mark on the bird.

Where was he?

The thing about wild roosters is that they often take some dog work, some running (if you’re hunting with flushers), and then it’s a brief moment of chaos until the bird hits the ground. When he does, it’s easy to walk up, send the dogs in, and wait for the recovery.

The thing about this is humans make poor eyewitnesses. We often only think we know exactly where a bird hit the ground. Then, as soon as a recovery seems like it’ll be challenging, we tend to try to re-create the shot sequence and the location of all the major players in the scene. We tend to get this wrong.

Pheasant hunting can go from calm to chaos in an instant. It’s easy to think you know exactly where a rooster was when you shot him, or where he hit the ground, but we make poor eyewitnesses. Always carry flagging tape to mark exactly where you shot, then give the dogs plenty of time to work out a wounded bird.

A good strategy is to carry a roll of flagging tape in your pocket. As soon as you knock a bird down, sit tight and flag your exact spot. Make note of how far away you think he was, and any pertinent details. Did he hit on the far side of the willows, or the near side? Was his head up when he fell? Did you see a leg fall or for sure note that one of his wings was busted?

All of this, including marking the location from which you took your shot, will help you put the dogs in the right spot to start working on the recovery.

Give the dogs a chance

We love our hunting dogs so much that we often believe things about them that just aren’t true. Like if a seasoned Lab swings through a spot where a bird fell, and he doesn’t find it, the bird must be gone.

Black Lab, Gus, with a pair of Minnesota roosters from a hunt on Nov. 25, 2023. (Photo by Eric Morken)

The truth is, wounded roosters tend to do one of two things.

They bury in the cover or they run away (and then bury in the cover).

The thicker the cover, or the snowpack, the easier it is for them to hide. A dog that is tasked with sniffing out a rooster that is under 2 feet of sawgrass and snow in the middle of a cattail slough is working with a rooster that’s not easy to smell.

With your shot location marked, work your dogs into the wind and try to relax. They know the drill; they just might need time and a little patience on your part. The worst thing to do is to wade into the mix ahead of them and muddy the waters, so to speak. Give your dogs time to figure the whole thing out, and then prepare to be surprised.

Wherever they go, there they are

A hard-hit rooster will often dig into the cover right where he lands. A bird that has some gas left in the tank is a different story. Even if you’re shooting the nastiest pheasant loads money can buy, wounded birds will happen. And some of those birds will be a long ways from where you knocked them down.

If your dog knows what it’s doing, and it shows you that it wants to go farther than you expect, trust him. It’s nothing for a wounded rooster to cover 100 or 200 yards after he’s hit. It’s also nothing for him to run a direction you don’t expect to escape danger.

If he’s not where you expect him to be, expand the search and let the dogs sort it out.

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