CA Guns & Hunting: Pheasant Hunting

CA Guns & Hunting: The two kinds of pheasant hunting – wild or planted?

BY BILL KARR/WON Staff WriterPublished: Oct 31, 2019

There are two distinct types of pheasants when it comes to hunting ringnecks: The wild variety, and the pen-raised variety. While hunting both is fun, one is far more challenging than the other, and at the same time, frustrating. That, of course, is pursuing the wily, wild ringneck.

The dangers of survival for a wild ringneck pheasant begin before the egg even hatches, since the eggs are eaten by skunks, possums and other critters, and entire nests are frequently destroyed during farming practices, since nesting usually takes place in the early spring before fields are turned for summer planting.

A FLYING PHEASANT is very misleading, since the back half is all tailfeathers, so it takes a trained eye to focus on the head and front part of a bird instead of the entire body.

Then, once the eggs hatch, the small pheasant chicks are dependent more on their coloration and immediate ability to run for survival than anything else, following the parent bird around. This is where habitat means survival or death for them: Those areas with heavy cover to hide in are perfect for survival, as opposed to short cut fields or sparse vegetation areas where they can be picked off by hawks, owls and ground predators.

Much of the survival of wild pheasants in California is dependent on overgrown fence borders, set-aside and growth along canal and irrigation banks, things that farmers don’t like, so they are usually poisoned or burned off. Hence, the lack of wild pheasants in the Golden State.

That’s where licensed pheasant clubs come into the equation: Providing the habitat and pen-raised birds that keep upland hunters and their dogs in the field.

Different licensed pheasant clubs have different sources for the birds they plant, and over the decades I’ve seen clubs that specialize in small, wiry, fast-flying roosters and others that plant big, lumbering, cackling roosters that scare the pants off you when they take off! They’re all fun, and they’re all a challenge to shoot.

RING-NECKED PHEASANTS spend most of their life on the ground, and they’ll run ahead of a hunter and a dog and only fly when they get to the end of the field, or you almost step on them.

When I used to hunt with my father in the southern California desert in the Coachella Valley, it seemed like the planted roosters took off and flew in slow motion. I would watch one fly right down an entire line of hunters in the drive and watch every one of them empty their guns at the big bird, watching it fly away unscathed. Almost always, the tail feathers were a ragged mess, but the bird itself was sometimes unscathed. That’s the “perception” of the shooter at a bird where the front half is body and the back half is tailfeathers!

While most domestically-raised pheasants are hunted in fields, most wild birds are found in wild habitat near or alongside cultivated crops, making them a far more difficult target than domestic birds, because they will dodge and dart around trees, bushes, levees or any other obstruction they can put between them and the hunter. Quite the challenge!

Either way, pheasants are a topnotch gamebird and can’t be beaten on the dinner table. A friend of mine—a diehard hater of wild game meat-- once babysat my house, and when I came home, he admitted to having eaten all the “chickens” I had in the freezer, and asked where I had gotten them. Yep, they were pheasants! Try them on a rotissierie in the barbecue, and baste them every 10 minutes or so while they’re turning with a mixture of white wine, chopped garlic cloves and soy sauce. An amazing flavor.

Pheasant hunting is a great alternative if you’re out duck hunting and the day isn’t working out right, or if you get your birds and want to extend the day! Raahauge’s Hunting Club out of Dunnigan, right off Int. 5 north of Sacramento, is a great stopover for a pheasant hunt. Contact them at (530) 724-0552 or email at Or check the yellow pages for the licensed gamebird club near you.

IT SEEMS LIKE a ring-necked pheasant rooster would be easy to spot with his gaudy plumage, but they can lie down almost flat in cover and be almost invisible. It takes a good dog, or a lucky footstep to flush them out.

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