Upland bird hunting properties with public access, especially those with large expanses of seemingly uniform cover, can be intimidating.
“Where do I start?” “Won’t they just run around me?” “It’s probably already been hunted too much.” “Man, will that be a lot of walking for nothing?”
Brian Piernicky, a conservation officer in southwestern Nebraska, knows birds often spend time in those tracts people often overlook. If he is not in his uniform enforcing game laws, there is a good chance you will find him in upland gear targeting public land for pheasants and quail with his two German shorthaired pointers. His productivity keeps him going back.
It is no secret the most popular method of harvesting birds from big expanses of cover is buddying up. A perpendicular row of hunters, spaced at 30 yards or so, keeps birds from slipping around the edge and back into cover behind the group.
Hunting in groups might be most effective, but Piernicky and his dogs have flushed many birds on solo outings of just an hour or so. “A lot of my success on public tracts last year was on wheat stubble,” Piernicky said. “An obvious tactic is to hunt the pockets of cover, if there are any, on the edges of the fields. These pockets often have stands of weeds and thickets and are likely places to find loafing pheasants and quail.”
If hunting stubble, walking “against the grain” keeps birds from running the rows and flushing out of range. Some fields of stubble are better than others, Piernicky said. “I found that by targeting fields with stubble that was taller than most yielded more birds and they would hold better,” he said. “Follow a dog into the wind and do not walk solely in straight lines. The birds in stubble run around a lot, and changing direction can confuse birds and add more shots in the field.”
Big tracts of Conservation Reserve Program acres can even be productive on a solo outing with the right approach, he said.“On those I try to zig-zag through and not hunt in uniform lines and try to hit areas other people might overlook,” he said.
Time of day and weather are also big factors and knowing feeding areas and likely roosting areas can help. “Around feeding times I will try to hunt edges of the field by food sources,” he said. “During cold periods birds will be in the thicker cover, but in warm periods they tend to avoid those areas. Hunting the last hour of the day can be very successful as birds move back into the fields and go to roost.”
Is a dog necessary?
Piernicky would not think of going to the field without them, of course, noting that watching them work is one of the best parts of the experience. If he did not have dogs, though, he would target those small patches of cover at field edges. “Wheat stubble sites with small pockets are ideal for someone without a dog. Usually if there are birds in them, they don’t hold real tight.” ■