Pheasant. Never say never.


As a young man the highlight of my hunting year, apart from duck opening, was my annual trip down to the Apple Isle to join my uncle, a couple of his mates and a few motley dogs for the start of the wallaby season. We would hunt the country around Marion Bay and Coles Bay for Bennett and Rufous wallabies. When not hunting I would keep myself occupied reading my uncle’s enormous supply of hunting magazines. The pheasant hunting articles really had me intrigued and I promised myself that one day I too would hunt those regal birds.  

Common ringneck pheasant
On mainland Australia, ringneck pheasants are mostly hunted on private farms and game reserves.

Once instead of listening to a Kiwi mate who told me to carry the shotgun as well as the 30/30 whilst pig hunting on his neighbour’s property on the North Island, I decided to only carry the 30/30. Later that afternoon, while sitting on a hillside waiting out a rain squall, I helplessly watched a cock pheasant feeding a mere 25 metres from me. And furthermore, to add insult to injury, other pheasant were squawking away while settling down for the night in a nearby tree.  

I thought the opportunity had slipped me by and I would never get the opportunity to hunt pheasant. That was until recently when my daughter Michelle chased up a couple of prospects for me, getting onto a local outfitter. A week or so before the shoot Rob rang me up to discuss final details; then all was set. Michelle’s brother-in-law was keen to join me as well. My wife quickly found us suitable accommodation at a good price. The Mount Victory cottages she booked us into turned out to be perfect, immaculate down to the last detail. All we had to take was a bit of food.

We arrived at our destination in plenty of time and, after booking into the cottages, we headed out the road, following the instructions Rob had given us to find the property on which we were to hunt on. We soon found the property we were looking for; then it was back to the cottages to light the fire. Thankfully we were allocated a good supply of wood which was excellent, as it was very cold.

A 9.00 am start the next morning gave us plenty of time to cook up a good breakfast before heading off. The gods must have been smiling over us as the weather up until now had been atrocious, but it looked as though today was going to be quite reasonable with the occasional light shower.

We met Rob, an easy going chap, and his dogs, Dax and Boris at his hut and straight away we knew we were in for a good day. I had brought two shotguns along, two Berettas, one in 12 gauge and the other in 20 gauge.  Not having hunted pheasants before I tried to cover all situations from flushing them from under the dog’s nose to when they get up 30 metres in front of the dog. With all that in mind I settled for the old modified choke in the bottom barrel and the improved modified choke in the top barrel in the 12 gauge; modified in the bottom barrel and full choke in the top barrel of the 20 gauge. 

In hindsight both shotguns would probably had performed more appropriately with an improved cylinder fitted to the bottom barrel.  After all any pheasant taken was destined for the table and the last thing I wanted was to have them riddled with shot. While lead shot is not good for the digestion it’s certainly hard on the teeth. 

According to our guide, Rob, we would be putting in a full day hunting punctuated with a break for lunch after about three hours, then we would continue on until dark if necessary.

Phesants are a game bird that will challenge even the most accomplished of wing shooters. 

Any thought of it being an extra easy hunt was soon dispelled shortly after we headed off.  Apparently Rob had seen a pheasant getting about not far from the hut and sure enough the dog soon put it up shortly after we started hunting for it.  It was a hen bird and it got up just in front of Blake so I allowed him the honour of taking the first shot.  By the time Blake realised he still had the safety catch on the pheasant was well on the way and as the pheasant reached the tree canopy I had a quick shot at it and missed. Needless to say it was pretty humbling and I quietly hoped it wasn’t a sign of things to come. 

The first part of the hunt was through reasonably thick scrub, that being heaps of trees with a fern ‘understudy’. Any pheasant put up could present a reasonably difficult shot. While Blake covered the more open side of the scrub,
I followed the dog which had gone all ‘birdy’ all of a sudden, then sprung a point. Moving in quickly
I mentally made sure that the safety was off then the pheasant, a hen bird, was up and away.

I should have allowed it to get out a bit to allow for the pattern of shot to open up a bit more, but in my eagerness to get the first pheasant on the board I didn’t and, consequently missed an easy shot.  I redeemed myself with the second barrel and collared the pheasant as it flew between the trees. The dog was quick to retrieve it and I breathed a sigh of relief as
I replaced the empties with a couple of fresh shells.

 

By the time we reached the end of the patch of scrub, which was about a kilometre long, we had accounted for a number of pheasant, around 10 if memory serves me correctly. Most were clean kills which is what any hunter worth his salt aims to achieve, but I did drop and lose a cock pheasant. I thought I had caught it in the centre of the pattern of shot but when we went to retrieve it, it couldn’t be found. We searched for quite awhile before giving up and moving on. Later that afternoon we finally caught up with it about 200 metres away, this time it was added to the bag.

Blake with some of the day’s bag.

We all moved over to some thick cover that we call ‘roo grass’.  This grass is quite thick and about a metre high, just perfect for pheasant to hide in. While Blake walked through the centre of it I skirted around the edge to cut off any pheasant that chose to outrun the dog instead of going up. It was surprising to see how far the pheasant ran before eventually taking to the air.  

By the time we had finished hunting thoroughly through the thick cover we had picked up another 8 or so birds which was quite pleasing. The pheasant were sitting pat most times and only going up when the dog finally pin pointed them.  I have no doubt what so ever that without the dogs’ hard work our tally of pheasant would be a lot lower, they were that hard to find.

By the time we stopped for lunch we had around 20 birds, which was considered average for two hunters.  I have always held the belief that I could get similar results while out hunting using a 20 gauge in comparison to using a 12 gauge. While the ammunition is dearer, a 20 gauge built on a 20 gauge frame is far more enjoyable to carry for an extended period of time.  It’s obvious lightness is certainly appreciated at hunt’s end I can assure you.

So as not to be declared a hypocrite, both Blake and I were going to use our 20 gauges for the afternoon hunt. With lunch out of the way we changed guns and ammunition and headed off to the far end of the paddock. No sooner had we alighted from the vehicle and made ready, the dog put a cock pheasant up practically from under out feet. Instead of taking to the air the cock pheasant headed off running through the high grass with the dog hot on its tail, with me following behind trying to load the 20 gauge while on the move.

Fifty metres on it was still running, then the dog caught up with it, forcing it to take to the air. To me it was the stuff that dreams were made of, a magnificent cock pheasant taking to flight in front of me, with me bringing my Beretta Silver Pigeon 20 gauge to bear on the rising bird. It simply couldn’t get any better. The load of No 5 shot quickly overtook the pheasant, plucking it neatly from the sky. The dog was quick to pounce on it and came proudly prancing back with it as only a German Shorthair Pointer can.

No sooner had I joined up with Blake and Rob than a hen bird got up close to us and as it broke to the left and over my left shoulder I neatly folded it with a shot from the 20 gauge. We moved over to a thick stand of grass and it wasn’t long before the dog put a pheasant up.  I thought it was too far for a shot but not so Blake and we were all impressed when he folded it stone dead with the shot from his 20 gauge.

The dog was working really well and was soon onto more pheasants and we collared most of what got up. Blake got two in quick succession as they flushed from the thick grass and I even collared the odd one by the time daylight starting to fade, bringing an end to our hunt.

Was it worth, the time, effort, money and planning that went into it? You bet it was and I have no doubt Blake and I will be fronting up again in the near future.‚ÄÇ

 

 

 


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