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How to Hunt Pheasants on Public Land with Map Apps

Rooster Recon

How to Hunt Pheasants on Public Land with Map Apps

There are a couple things that dictate where you’ll find roosters this month, especially if you’re hunting public land. The first is geothermal cover. This might be cattails, a row of pine trees, or anything that blocks the wind and traps in a little extra heat. This type of cover also has the added benefit of extra protection from predators.

The other thing is, well, predators. Particularly blaze-orange-clad predators who follow canines through the cover, day in and day out. This season-long presence of hunters pushes birds into spots that hunters are less likely to go. It’s not rocket science, I know, but a lot of hunters seem to dismiss this and try to kill roosters the exact same way everyone else does.

By December, those worn-out routes don’t serve you much good. I know it, because I see them all month long and it’s a rare day when there aren’t fresh boot and paw prints on them. Most hunters follow a predictable route, just outside the best cover. Their dogs go in 15 yards, hunt as best they can, and the roosters just move in a little deeper.

Tony Peterson holding roosters with 2 retrievers
If you want to find late-season roosters on public land, you’ll want to take a look at all of your hunting spots via aerial imagery to maximize your routes and spend your time in the best cover.

Either that or the ringnecks move off into islands of cover that we simply don’t want to walk to. I find this a lot in a few states I hunt, and it’s almost always like discovering a bachelor pad. A small patch of willows or a plum thicket that is well off the main cover, or just a long ways from the easy access, will feature a few birds and they are almost always the kind that cackle when they flush. This is no coincidence, and it’s something you can key off if you use the right technology to guide your efforts.

Bird’s-Eye View

I consult my phone about 1,000 times a day when I’m hunting public land roosters. I want to know where the public land is that I might hunt, as well as what kind of food sources are on it, or nearby. Not only does modern satellite imagery allow you to see all of this without burning a calorie, but it also lets you plan out more efficient routes.

There’s nothing worse than diving into a section of land that looks good right by the parking lot but fizzles out to ankle high grass for the remaining 600 acres. Using a good mapping app will tell you if there is a low spot deep into a parcel that should be ringed by cattails or if there is a tree row near a fenceline that separates the public ground from a picked cornfield. There is something to be said for setting out into the great unknown, but in the interest of not burning out my dog over some wanderlust, I’ll stick to trying to make good guesses on how best to hunt a spot, or if I should hunt it at all.

Bad Memory Birds

Nearly every time my hunting partner and I drive to a familiar area to pheasant hunt, I’ll realize that I’ve forgotten some important details about specific spots. Or I’ll see a parcel on a map that looks good only to show up and see that it doesn’t have what I want. These days, I mark every good spot with a waypoint and a set of simple notes.

rooster standing in snowy field
Using a good mapping app to find public land and mark your best spots can help you develop a mile run of late-season options.

I do this for the spots that were productive, and also for the spots that weren’t so good but had potential. For example, in November my buddy and I were eyeballing a potential spot and didn’t think it looked all that great. I just happened to catch sight of a lone hen landing in a grassy swale, so we decided to see if she had any boyfriends with her.

She did – about 14 of them, and we put two of them into our vests after a short, productive hunt. That spot treated us well when there wasn’t any snow and the sloughs were unfrozen, but in December it’ll probably be a rooster ghost town. That’s okay, I’ll be back there next November for round two.


December is the hardest time to pheasant hunt public land but can also be the most productive. It’ll take some long hikes, a good dog, and a little help from an app to get you on the best cover at all times. Combine those three though, and you’ll be surprised how many ringnecks you can pick up that have been avoiding hunters all season long by simply getting out of the way.

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