Sleeping on the ground instead of roosting in trees, pheasants are preyed upon by every mid-sized predator out there. If they're to survive for any length of time, they need a lot of grain producing farmland punctuated by grassland and heavy brush. For this reason, the Department of Environmental Conservation only stocks them in two spots in Oswego County: Three Mile Bay/Big Bay and Deer Creek Marsh Wildlife Management Areas.
Native to China, pheasants tolerate Oswego County's northern tier weather pretty well. But their preferred habitat around here is so small, most hunters only get them incidentally, while hunting ruffed grouse or rabbits.
While the Deer Creek WMA has all the usual suspects preying on pheasants, it has one thing that also contributes to their numbers: a pheasant preserve right across the street. Birds that escape Deer Creek Motel's Pheasant Preserve on NYS Route 3 (north of Port Ontario) find the patchwork of habitats pretty good on the other side of the road.
But preserves do more for hunting than just supply game; they also hone a hunter's skills. It's one thing to shoot a stationary target or even a clay pigeon launched from a trap; quite another thing altogether to target a speeding critter.
When you shoot at live targets anything can happen, and something always does.
For instance, last Monday I invited fellow blogger and Oswego County Public Information Officer Jessica Trump to a bird hunt. She had never hunted pheasant and accepted the challenge.
We arrived at the Deer Creek Motel and Shooting Preserve at about the same time. Owner Stan Ouellette welcomed us and had us sign releases. In the meantime, he took off in his ATV and stocked a bunch of birds.
When he returned, he fetched Belle, his wire-haired Pointing Griffon, and she lit off onto the trail ahead of us like a brown, low flying cyclone. We no sooner climbed over the first hill and she was already pointing. Stan ordered her to hold as we ran up, then gave the order to flush. The pheasant decided to race the dog through the high grass and we tried following them with our ears. Suddenly it shot up in a whirl of bright colors and feathers. Jess fired first, hitting the bird. Belle found it and brought it to us.
In about an hour and a half, Jess and Stan nailed five pheasants. Each surprised us with its defensive flight, only allowing us a couple of seconds to figure out what direction, height and speed it would take before flying out of range.
Before setting out for a hunt, regardless of the game, it's a good policy to refresh your skills, especially your patience and aim. A trip to your friendly pheasant preserve provides the ultimate target practice.
You'll indulge in some really wild fun, help some farm-bred birds escape into the wild, and bring home a tasty meal, too.
A rooster rising
Rooster in flight
Belle on point
Belle, hard at work
Jessica, her first pheasant, and Belle