Snow was already falling in western Minnesota. And with a blizzard just 24 hours away, the window to hunt pheasants in the year’s first snowfall would mean eight hours in a vehicle for a couple hours of hunting.
It’d been a couple years since I’d hunted in any white stuff (a mild winter last year), let alone a fresh cover. And I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d hunted immediately after the very first snowfall of the winter – SNOpening Day. Pheasant hunters can occasionally be lucky this way, receiving the equivalent of two openers in one season.
What makes hunting pheasants in the first snow of the year so magical? Consider:
Birds Group. Focus on the winter cover, cattails and shelterbelts, as that’s where pheasants will consolidate. When the fluff gives way to three-pronged tracks, you know you’re in business. Keep your eyes peeled for a “sweeper,” where a rooster’s tail fans and leaves a print.
Birds Hold. The average lifespan of a pheasant is less than one year, so this will be their first and last earliest snow. This bird that’s predisposed to run can’t do it as well, defaulting to the next-best-defense, which is to hunker down and hide. And that’s where the dogs come in…
Perfect for Dogs. If you have a pheasant dog, you almost owe it to them to hunt the first snow. Prime scenting conditions will send your pup into overdrive. Flusher or pointer, tight-holding hens will give them plenty of good work while you sift through for the legal ones. Bird in bag or not, you’ll have an all-access pass to uninhibited, four-legged hunting joy.
Stealth Mode. Provided you can make it out of the parking spot without a racket, then proceed into the wind, the fresh layer should help conceal your presence.
Limited Hunting Pressure. Many pheasant hunters have already hung it up for the year, dissuaded by the cold, the wind chill, holiday shopping, etc. Enjoy having a place all to yourself.
All these held true on my first-snow hunt. Add to this the climax of a trophy, plumed-out rooster launching himself mere inches from your dog’s nose, a flying box of crayons against a giant sheet of white paper, and you may find the season’s second opening day even better than the first.