By Ben Brettingen
Different types of cover lend themselves better during different seasons. Here’s a quick breakdown of what I’m looking for depending on the time of year.
This is a fun time of year to hunt as there’s often an abundance of young birds, and wily veterans haven’t been shot at for months. My key to success this time of year relates to crops and timing. For most years, corn hasn’t been harvested when the opener rolls around, and that gives birds the upper hand in the game of hide-and-seek. During the days, they’ll be hanging out in the standing crops, getting fat, all while avoiding you.
To combat this problem, I’ll be looking for areas that might have soybeans planted around them instead of corn. Beans normally are harvested by the end of September or early October. While not as powerful of a magnet as corn, there are still birds that eat plenty of soybeans.
Additionally, I’ll be looking for areas that have a water feature to let the dog take a swim to cool off. Early season can still be hot.
Do we abandon those perfect spots surrounded by standing corn? Nope! But you must take a different approach to hunt them. I’ve walked through fields adjacent to standing corn, three hours before sunset without flushing a single bird. I then made a quick hot lap less than an hour from sunset and didn’t make it 15 minutes before walking out with my limit. As I was walking back to the truck, there were hundreds of birds pouring back into the grasslands to roost.
So if you have a honey hole, consider hunting it either first thing at sunrise (if legal in your state) or right at sunset. You’ll have a much better chance of catching them before they go to feed.
This is one of my favorite times of year to hunt! The shine of opening day has worn off, and fewer people are in the field. This is a perfect time to implement the cut crops strategy we touched on before.
Remember, birds have started to feel the pressure at this point and have wised up to the game. Mid-season, I search areas that are harder to access, because people don’t want to go through the work to get to them.
Be sneaky. Pick parking spots that aren’t commonly used, the birds won’t know what hit them. Try parking 300-500 yards away from a property and walk into the spot. This prevents making a racket and gives you the upper hand.
By this time, many hunters have hung up their boots, and are more concerned with the cold than they are with birds. It’s one of the best times to be in the field for this reason. However, the birds are no spring chickens, and their habits have changed out of necessity.
The two biggest driving factors for their decision-making are food and shelter. Think thick cover, such as cattails, tree belts, and thick native prairie. It also means corn is a high priority!
Scout for areas that have woody cover and marshy areas. However, not all trees and cattails are created equal.
Frozen sloughs can be late-season magnets! Identify swamps that aren’t more than 150-200 yards wide to prevent birds from sneaking around you.
Finding the right woody cover is also important. Try looking for short dense tree belts as well as willows growing in with grass or cattails. Shelter belts are great places to find birds as well, especially when nasty weather rolls in.
This example is a great late-season haunt. It has a complex of marshy areas with scattered trees. Use the line distance tool in OnX to determine the width of the marsh areas. The one pictured is a little too wide, at 180 yards, but notice how it necks down towards the southeast side. I’m okay with this as I always hunt it from the northwest side, pushing all of the birds down into the skinny areas.
Additionally, food plots can be great on opening weekend, but shortly after that, birds get wise to this game. However, when late-season rolls around and temperatures plummet, birds often determine the need for food is worth the safety hazard.
X Marks the Spot
Waypoints are one of the most crucial tools in my bag. I spend countless hours e-scouting different areas I may hunt the following year, and without a system of organizing these waypoints, I would be hopelessly lost. Take advantage of the color coding options and icons to remember your hunts, birds flushed, habitat on the property, and what you experienced, both good and bad. Additionally, don’t forget the tracker tool as it gives you valuable post-hunt information about the ground covered.
This scouting strategy can be used across pheasant and quail country and will consistently help you get into more birds and more often.
Download the onX Hunt App at onxhunt.com. onX Hunt is a proud sponsor of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever and by using the code PHEASANTS or QUAIL during checkout, you’ll get 20 percent off your membership, and onX Hunt will also donate 20 percent of your purchase back to Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever to help fund the mission of creating more habitat for the birds we all love.