Pheasant hunts a different game

OUTDOORS

November 14, 1993|By LONNY WEAVER

Pheasant season opens tomorrow and will continue through Dec. 31, and the daily limit is a single bird. Compared to past pheasant seasons, this one is pretty thin.

Knock out two weeks for deer season, when no one in his right mind would be following a bird dog or busting through heavy cover, Sundays when no hunting is allowed, a couple of days for the muzzleloader deer hunt, Christmas Eve and Day, and a few nasty weather days and the real season length is more like two Saturdays and a handful of weekdays.

We used to get two birds daily and a season that ran through the end of January. How times have changed in the course of 10 years.

Until the early '80s, the pheasant reigned supreme in central Maryland. Howard, Frederick, Baltimore and parts of Harford counties were particularly good but the top ringneck spot was Carroll County. I well remember when opening day was akin to Christmas and the Fourth of July all wrapped up into one wonderful package.

It was nothing to jump 50 to 100 pheasants a day. Many of us hunted in groups of four to 12 and rarely did we come home without our allotted two birds each nestled in our hunting coats and vests.

From one end of the country to the other, though, pheasant numbers dropped at an alarming rate almost overnight. Maryland was hit especially hard.

Everyone has a theory, but the fact is that the only areas that have experienced a substantial recovery are Midwestern states that went into the various present-day versions of the land banks.

In Carroll and elsewhere in central Maryland, the pheasant has been lost to modern farming methods and land development practices. An abundance of domestic and wild predators hasn't helped, either.

For years, Johnny Weller, Bob Chrest and I hunted pheasant at every opportunity. Weller lived more than seven decades in this county, mostly in the Uniontown-Taneytown-New Windsor area and there wasn't a farm around that didn't welcome him.

Chrest enjoyed an equally free reign. With two pals like that, all I had to do was keep my mouth shut and look responsible.

I think the last hunt the three of us enjoyed was in 1983. Weller was having difficulty getting around, so Chrest and I would post him as a blocker, and we'd bust our way through swamps and briars in hopes of getting Weller a decent shot or two. That year I put 29 birds in my game bag.

After Weller died, the birds seemed to vanish, and, it just wasn't the same. Chrest and I haven't hunted together since 1988, when we'd work like slaves to raise a single bird, if we were lucky. Usually that single would be an illegal hen bird. Since then I've confined my ringneck hunting to a few select preserves.

Pheasant numbers have remained steady over the past few years, and the determined hunter still can put a bird in the air. I nTC suggest you try the northern portion of the county, from Taneytown in the west to the Manchester area in the east.

The old classic cornfield or weed field drives are useless to local ringneck hunters. Today's birds are found in small pockets of brush and marshland bordered by grain and soybean fields. Plan on busting lots of heavy brush and briars. Most of these covers can be worked by a lone hunter.

Whether hunting alone or with a pal, the key is to move slowly, stop frequently and cover every foot of likely ground. Walk in a zig-zag pattern, stop, reverse your direction, stop, reverse, etc.

Pheasants are strong on nerve and prefer running to flying, so you have to literally rattle them into flight. Shots are going to be close and fast.

I've taken dozens of pheasants with as little as 3/4 ounces of #7 1/2 -ounce shot from whisper-light 28-gauge guns, more with the standard and 3-inch magnum 20-gauge throwing 1 to 1 1/4 ounces of #6 shot, but the best of the lot is my 12-gauge Winchester 21 side-by-side choked skeet 1 and 2. Loaded with a so-called "pigeon" load, which is a premium target load carrying 1 1/4 ounces of very hard #6 shot. I have used this gun to bag literally hundreds of pheasants with total satisfaction.

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