(For those who hunt pheasants, it is necessary that there be pheasants to hunt. Few are wild in most states, so the birds are purchased and hidden in the fields. This article describes the hiding experience, called “stocking.” To see what happens next, the hunting is explained in this more recent report: https://www.irasabs.com/?p=2803)

This is a secret known by many of the nation’s 2,000,000 pheasant hunters who chase after 10,000,000 pheasants raised on U.S. farms. These red-faced, green-headed, white-ring-necked birds are then sold to hunting clubs, hidden in bushes, sniffed out by specially trained dogs who point and flush, so that men with shotguns can pull triggers, down the game, and utilize much-talked-about recipes to cook delicious meals. In the United Kingdom, 35 million pheasants are raised annually.

ring-necked pheasants

ring-necked pheasants


So I want you to imagine how many times a year what I am going to describe takes place. It is a primitive practice as old as the wind that is totally unimaginable to almost all city dwellers, suburbanites and the majority of rural inhabitants. It has shades of voodoo and witchcraft, talking in tongues and reading the runes.

As the sun headed for the horizon on October 30th, I put on my high-calf boots and heavy gloves and headed out with a friend to “stock” pheasants in fields for the hunters who would search for the birds come Halloween morning with their spirited dogs and menacing guns. There were 10 birds to a cage, a mixture of brilliantly feathered roosters and dully-tan, camouflaged hens, and we would transport four cages to four different locations (five to 30+ acres each) in a soon to be mud-spattered, white, 4-wheel drive pickup truck.

Bouncing on rocks and over dips, avoiding the scratching brambles and who-knows-how-deep puddles from two-days-ago rain, we drive cautiously on bush-hogged trails, across streams, through shorn cornfields, and in pastures. We are looking for scattered sites to hide the birds from tomorrow’s predators. Our mission is to place 40 birds down gently in the woods, under bushes, beneath fallen trees. And keep them there.

ring-necked pheasant rooster and hen

ring-necked pheasant rooster and hen

I have seen the state stockers just open their cages from the truck and shoo the birds out to the air. These just-released pheasants fly all over the fields and land sometimes hundreds of feet away. No problem in a 100-acre or 500-acre parcel. But in our club’s smaller domains, where it is essential that the birds do NOT fly away to neighboring house lots or NO HUNTING ALLOWED fields, we must discourage the pheasants from flying at all. We want them to walk away quietly, stealthily. To hide from foxes, coyotes and owls. To be ready for the ‘morrow’s drama, as strong as possible for a creature raised in captivity, to spring away at 60 mph from dogs bred for each Fall’s game of deadly Hide and Seek.

So here is what we do. You reach into the cage and grab a bird gingerly, avoiding its claws and beak. It will flap its wings a lot and try to keep away from you. Be firm. Next you clamp it between your left forearm and chest, while holding its neck with your right hand. Don’t choke it. When you are sure it won’t get away, you find its left wing, turn its head rearward and tuck it under that wing. Then hold the bird securely with both hands over the wings.

Now comes the shaman ritual: with the pheasant still horizontal and its head under its wing, stretch out your arms and move the whole bird in circles clockwise three times. Then repeat the circles three times in counter-clockwise motions. If you really get into it, you can make melodic rumbling sounds.

flying pheasant

flying pheasant

At this point, the bird should be slightly disoriented and calm. And it almost always is. Last step is to place it down gently on the ground under some roots, low branches, a fallen tree. This way, when it peeks out of its wing to see where it is, it can’t fly straight up. In fact, after a few seconds of getting its bearings, it almost always walks forward to seek a hiding place.

So now you know. Do this 20 times in two hours, and you will feel like an ancient man of the land. You will be oblivious to the thorns of briars and to boots covered in mud up to your ankles. You will love the smell of the birds on your slicker and the smell of their droppings on cages. You will have seen distant and splendorous views of fields and the reds/yellows/oranges of Fall-colored trees. Maybe the wisp of a fire. There was the whine of the tires slipping in mud. There is the camaraderie enjoyed when a job outdoors is well done.

You are part of a dying breed. The species called “hunter,” whose numbers are decreasing with each new suburban development, loss of habitat, and state laws imposed by representatives of city folk. But that is another story.