Come every October, like clockwork, I find myself in the same, shameful routine. I dig into a beat-up, plastic bin that’s been hiding on a dark shelf somewhere, stuffed with all the pheasant gear I dropped in exactly ten minutes after I ended my last hunt of last season.
I crack open the lid to find the same result every year. My favorite hunting gloves sit on top looking like old chunks of jerky. They smell a lot like boiled beef and look like they’ll never cover a hand again.
Next out is a weathered vest still covered in cattail fuzz, burrs, and fuzzy pheasant down. I love that my hunting gear looks seriously used and abused. It’s part of the tradition. Kind of like a hunter’s notch in the belt. After the gloves get a little oil and the vest a modest brush off, I face the next challenge of the new hunting season. It is probably my toughest task of the season. I try and find a darn place to hunt.
If you walk pheasant fields, you know that “access” has become almost a dirty word. We’ve had a lot of land disappear as towns reach out further into rural areas. We’re growing a lot of corn these days in, what once were, Conservation Reserve Program fields.
Oh, and did I mention the land-grabbing companies that tie up seemingly every good piece of pheasant habitat in their greedy paws for weekend pay-to-play hunting games? Not exactly my kind of sport. I like to use a couple of simple techniques that will help get you onto some of America’s best hunting acres. Trust me on this one. Read ahead.
Great spots to hunt still exist in the heart of pheasant country. You just have to ask. I’m blown away by the number of hunters who won’t go through the little bit of trouble to find their own spots to hunt. If you’re one of those people, do this for me. Pick a free day, hop in your truck and drive until you find a birdy-looking spot.
Then, find out who the heck owns that land and ask them if you can hunt it. How find the owner? County seats keep plat maps with landowner contact info. If you don’t want to waste the gas to drive back into town, then find someone around and ask them. Country folks know their neighbors and they know who owns the land. The bottom line, get out of your comfort zone and walk up to a stranger’s door, knock, then talk.
You might be surprised by how many folks will give you open access to their property. Oh, and don’t forget to come armed with a simple gift. I always drop off a small bottle of maple syrup (don’t be cheap! Buy the real stuff) or a sack of wild rice. You’ll find a gift goes a long way in the access game.
If you are truly the shy type, you can still find decent spots to chase birds. More and more states offer hunter access programs. Nebraska runs CRP MAP. Land owners get an extra payment if they agree to open up their CRP to public hunting. The state puts together a nifty map book that shows you ever chunk of accessable land. North Dakota offers a similar program. It’s call PLOTS. Same deal. Access and a map book.
Another option? State wildlife management areas. Yes, some of the more popular get beat up by sheer numbers of hunters, but plenty do not. Find a couple off the beaten path and I bet you’ll find a few birds this season.
State websites offer maps to every area around. Don’t let access dampen your hunting season. A little bit of work and you WILL find yourself waist deep in habitat and sky high in birds.
Bill Sherck is the producer of “Pheasants Forever TV” and host of “Due North Outdoors.” He also works on a variety of other outdoor television shows.