This Saturday marks the opening of the annual opening of pheasant season in South Dakota. As most years, I don't typically go out opening weekend, I'll go later when the big opening crush of hunters has subsided.

I'm no expert at hunting our state bird. I am pretty good at making lots of mistakes. I've seen a few as well. To get a well rounded list of things to not do before or while pheasant hunting I also consulted with my dad, Tom, and my brother Joe. Between the three of us I think we came up with a decent list.

Don't shoot at a bird that is above someone's head

When I was in high school I once went hunting with a bunch of buddies. Once we all arrived at the field and I watched the overly casual way shotguns were pulled out and loaded, or not loaded because they were already shot, I was a tad nervous. While walking the first field a bird jumped just behind me and to the left. Instead of watching the bird, I looked at the left handed hunter to my left. He was swinging his barrel in my direction and I was hitting the deck face first, barrel up. I spent the rest of my day ducking and covering and yelling at people. Never hunted with any of them again.

Don't take the easy route

A few years ago I was invited to go on a hunt with my dad and several guys I didn't know. It was a fun time. One thing that constantly aggravated me was the behavior a guy in his mid-20's who was relatively new to hunting pheasants. He avoided any areas that looked tougher to walk through than a dry dirt path. While I was slogging my slogging my way through a narrow, dry but thick slough, he walked around his half of it forcing me to veer towards his half to try to kick a bird up.

Don't bring a dog that isn't actually trained as a hunting dog

My brother told me that one of his friends would bring his "bird dog" with when they would hunt pheasants after school. The dog was a farm dog and not trained at hunting pheasants, or anything else. He just ran way too far ahead of them, kicking birds up well out of range of their Remington 870's.


Don't shoot too soon

In high school I was mercilessly ridiculed for missing every pheasant I shot at when a huge group of birds jumped at once in a thick, tumbleweed infused pasture. In my head the next bird that jumped was going to die. One did about two yards in front of me. It got five yards away before I drilled it with an ounce and an eighth of 5 shot from a modified choke. There wasn't much left. Then I was ridiculed for turning a nice sized pheasant into what looked like a bloody discarded t-shirt.

Don't eat a big breakfast or lunch

Ever done anything active after a big meal? It sucks. Don't do it. Shooting time the first weekend of the pheasant season isn't until Noon Central (11:00 A.M. Mountain) so either eat a big breakfast or a really light lunch before heading out. Opening day I have a normal breakfast but then just graze on granola bars and maybe a PB&J sandwich in there somewhere. Then I'll stuff myself at supper.

Don't leave the plug in your shotgun

Double barrel shotguns are probably the best tool for pheasant hunting, but I still rock my old Remington 870 pump gun. In South Dakota you don't need a plug in your shotgun. That rule only applies to waterfowl hunting where you can't have more than three rounds in the gun. In fact I still have a +3 extension on my 870 from when I used it to shoot 3-gun. It's still legal. This isn't a big don't, but pheasant hunting can be dynamic enough that you could shoot once and miss at one bird, then shoot twice and kill another. Then before you get a chance to reload while walking to retrieve the bird, another bird jumps. Remove the plug and have the ability to have five in there.

Don't forget to waterproof your boots

This was another suggestion from my brother. I hadn't thought of it but remembered he was right. If you walk in tall grass, even in the early afternoon, there can be a bunch of dew that is still hanging out in the bottom. Once you have wet boots you have wet boots all day. I'm going to waterproof mine tonight. I'm not going pheasant hunting this weekend but I'm going to be hunting deer two weeks from today.

Don't wear clothing that's too warm

Layers are obviously the way to go. If the high is going to be 68 and sunny but only 45 when you start hunting, I wear a thin long sleeved t-shirt. As soon as I feel a little sweaty the flannel is gone. If it's warmer than that it'll be a short sleeved t-shirt. I only hang onto sleeves for walking through tall corn or sorghum. I hate getting all scratched up.

Don't use 7 1/2 or 8 shot

Sure, it can kill a pheasant. But the ammo used to break clay birds is not ideal. It can unnecessarily wound a bird that will. And if you do manage to kill the bird, you'll be picking BB's out of your meat or spitting them onto your plate. I went hunting with a guy a few years ago who I thought knew better. I was wrong. I gave him some of my ammo. Good thing I did because the one bird he got was at least 25 yards out. I like Prairie Storm 5 or 6 shot. On public land where non-toxic shot is required I use the 3 shot steel.

Don't leave your skeet choke in your shotgun

Again, you're not shooting clay birds. Get your skeet choke out of your shotgun. I like using a modified choke in my 870. Joe said he prefers a full choke in a single barrel. My dad hunts with a double barrel and usually goes with a improved cylinder and a modified or improved modified.

Don't hunt without toilet paper or baby/man wipes

I never go deer hunting without baby wipes in my pack. When I pheasant hunt I don't really have a pack. Joe reminded me that an upset stomach can happen on a bird hunt too. He's right!

Don't pull both triggers at the same time on a double barrel

My dad really likes side-by-side shotguns with two triggers. That way he can control whether or not he is shooting the spread he wants. You may have a shotgun like this, there are still a few out there made this way. He told me that it is not wise to pull both triggers at the same time. "I only did it once," he said. "It doesn't help and your shoulder will thank you."

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