It is inexplicable that hunting this pheasant is so popular. The hunt is, in a word, difficult. Ringnecked pheasant roosters have long spurs on the lower part of their legs.
These sharp implements are capable of injuring dogs and hunters alike. The spurs are actually designed for territorial battles with other roosters, which is small consolation to the poor black lab that gets badly scratched while working. This pheasant is smart enough to run when startled, instead of just taking to the air. This could be a sign of learned behavior or evolution. Perhaps the pheasants believe that taking off immediately is a good way to get shot by hunters. They can detect ground vibrations that hunters cannot. They also have excellent eyesight and good hearing. In short, they definitely know you are there before you know they are. They are also smart enough to stay put in dense cover unless they are sure you see them, or you step on them.
They usually live their entire lives within about a half mile radius, so they know the terrain intimately. A typical rooster can be up to three feet from head to tail and weigh up to three pounds. The hen has a shorter tail and weighs slightly less. The hen is drab and brown, and illegal to hunt in most states. The rooster, on the other hand, is beautifully colored. They display purple, blue, copper, and a bright dark green. Perhaps it is these beautiful colors which make the ring-necked pheasant such a popular target among hunters. Pheasants will generally flock together if they are able to find food and thick cover.
These flocks may contain several hundred pheasants. The bird’s average lifespan is less than one year, with 70% of pheasants not surviving from one year to the next. This number is constant even where they are not hunted. For that reason alone, the number of pheasants allowed to be hunted and killed is high compared to other birds. The ideal areas for pheasants to thrive are in agricultural fields of corn, wheat, or milo.
They will find cover in the thick brush along fence rows, ditches, streams, and marshes. Hunting pheasants is often done with at least two hunters working together. One “driver” and his dog will work the thick weedy cover where the birds are likely hiding. His partner will be stationed at the end of the row of cover with his rifle. The second hunter is referred to as a “blocker.” The pheasants will, hopefully, take flight as targets. However, they are almost as likely to run on the ground to denser cover on steep draws. This is when a retrieving dog becomes almost invaluable. Only a determined dog with the scent of his prey will be able to bring out a pheasant in the thick brush.