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The Rush Creek boys with their pheasants.
The Rush Creek boys with their pheasants. / Submitted by Gary Engberg

Pheasant hunting in Wisconsin is not like the hunting you have in South and North Dakota, but it ranks somewhere around the seventh or eighth state nationally in pheasant harvest.

The annual harvest numbers for wild pheasants in Wisconsin is between 200,000 and 250,000 birds. Wild or native pheasants had been just holding their own or declining in recent years, mainly due to the loss of much of the Federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands and the continued loss of habitat. Habit loss could be worse if it wasn’t for the local, grassroots effort by the conservation minded organizations, like Pheasants Forever (PF).

The last decade of mild winters has helped the growth of native pheasants in some parts of south-west and south-central Wisconsin. There are now scattered pockets of wild pheasants in Rock, Green, Iowa, Lafayette, Walworth, Jefferson, Dane, Sauk, Columbia, Winnebago, Fond du Lac, Dodge, Price, and Rusk Counties. All of the above named counties have public hunting grounds and still some scattered areas of CRP, where you can find birds, if you put in your time knocking on doors and driving the country and back roads while looking for good cover.

The state of Wisconsin released over 52,000 birds this year, which is about normal. The state has over 70 public hunting grounds where they release pheasants throughout the season till the run out of birds which is usually in early December. The state stocking is over for the year, but if you go to public areas and hunt the marshes and thick cover you can still find pheasants. Few hunters are out now and there are still public hunting grounds where you’ll find birds if you do some walking and “beat the bushes”. The pheasant season is open till the 31st of December and hunters are still allowed to shoot two roosters per day. Check your 2012 Small Game Hunting book for other specific regulations and rules. You also are required to have a small game license and a pheasant stamp.

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The month of December can provide some of the year’s best hunting if you don’t mind colder weather and hard walking. But, the rewards of bagging a beautiful rooster, not to mention the exercise, are well worth it. Many of the stocked pheasants have been shot, but there still are roosters (as I said earlier) on public land in the hard to get at places, where most hunters won’t go or on neighboring lands. Some of these “spots” may also require the hunter to wear waders or hip boots, but they will hold pheasants.

Some other factors that help add to the lure of December pheasant hunting are:

1. Most row crops have been harvested, so there’s less cover for birds to hide in.

2. Most hunters have put their guns away for the year, which means little competition.

3. If there’s snow on the ground (and there is), you can see if there have been pheasants where you are hunting and where they’ve gone by following their tracks.

A few more suggestions;

• It’s better to hunt in small groups or alone because pheasants have seen and heard it all by now. Noise is associated with danger, so a quiet and stealth approach is mandatory for success.

• Walk slowly and allow your dog to work scent. Walk and stop now and then because smart roosters will sit tight and often let the hunter walk by them.

• Hunt the edges of cover instead of trying to cover big fields. I like to have my Labs work the heaviest cover that I can find for pheasants that would rather run than fly.

• Isolated islands of cover, even if small, can hold pheasants in December. Cover is at a premium now, so try to hunt anything that looks “birdy”.

• Get out early in the morning before sunrise to catch the birds feeding and picking grit on roadsides.

• Hunting before weather fronts move in and during bad weather can be hot hunting!

• Drive around the counties with good cover that I’ve suggested and look for any CRP land or land enrolled in any government programs. Knock on doors and ask farmers and landowners if you can hunt their land. This isn’t South Dakota, so you can often gain permission to hunt pheasants by just asking the owner. Finding any existing CRP land is still one of the single most important factors in late season hunting because there will be cover and food during the harsh winter months. Any corn or other crops left standing is a bonus and be sure to be quiet before starting to hunt these lands because roosters will be running the other way at the first truck door being slammed, any loud talking, and any yelling at your dog! Being quiet is of utmost importance if you want to harvest late season pheasants.

Dress warm and keep hunting till the end of the month. You’ll be surprised at the birds you can harvest and how peaceful and productive a December day hunting pheasants can be!

Visit the Wisconsin DNR website for more information at www.dnr.state.wi.us.

More on fishing: Fishing news from around the state | Your fishing photos | Build a map | Read fishing reports | We're blogging about fishing

Gary Engberg is a professional tournament angler, fishing guide, and writer. He began fishing tournaments in the early 1990’s and has fished the In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail (PWT), North American Walleye Association (NAWA), Masters Walleye Circuit (MWC), World Walleye Association (WWA), FLW, and Mercury Nationals in the years since. Gary has hosted the Outdoor Horizons radio show weekly for 14 years in Madison on WTDY 1670 AM and WTDY 106.7 FM Saturdays at 8:05 am. and is also a correspondent for the Wisconsin State Journal for the last 12 years. Visit http://www.garyengbergoutdoors.com for more from Gary Engberg.

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