“Guided pheasant hunts” have become a popular business in the upper Midwest with hundreds of commercial operations offering their services. All sorts of people are looking for places to go with family and friends interested in a fun day in the field hunting ringnecks under the guidance of paid professionals.
The guides in these commercial hunting businesses, in their advertising or in personal conversation, usually make clear what they will provide as services and hunting opportunities for their paying customers. But, seldom are the customers’ responsibilities as clients openly stated and described. These full-time pheasant guides from the region offer some advice to hunters who hire them for their services. Their insights might be helpful in making paying customers much happier.
1. Be a good ‘guest’ and mind your manners. “I hope I don’t sound too harsh or critical in saying this, but sometimes some first-time hunters will show up here with what I call an ‘attitude.’ They sometimes think that, because they are paying for this hunt, that I’m their servant and they are the master,” Jim Keller says. As a professional gun dog trainer all year and a pheasant guide all season, Keller has hosted hundreds of hunters in the 15 years he has worked out of Keller’s Kennels, 15 miles southwest of Lincoln, Nebraska.
“The way I prefer the ‘guide-client’ relationship is to see myself as the ‘host’ and the customers as my ‘guests.’ In that relationship, I am their hired ‘hunting buddy’ obligated to provide some accommodations and services. But, they are expected to be ‘good company,’ to say ‘please,’ and ‘thanks’ and to treat me with the same respect that they would give to any other hunting partner,” Keller points out.
“This isn’t something I directly can explain to any of my clients. But, it is something I can sense when someone new calls to book a hunt. A prospective client’s ‘attitude’ is usually something I can pick up on in a phone conversation, but I’m not infallible on this point despite 15 years of phone calls from inquiring hunters. This definitely is something that really matters though when first-time customers want to re-book for next year…. If I didn’t enjoy their company during their hunt this season, I can easily be ‘all booked up’ for next season,” Keller adds.
2. Be honest. “I used to directly ask all my prospective clients about their physical abilities and shotgun shooting skills. ‘Can you walk two to three miles across fairly rugged flatland country, through knee-high corn stubble, and in chin-high grass? Can you climb through or over barbed wire fences? Do you practice shooting on claybirds? Have you ever hunted pheasants over dogs? In other words are you an experienced hunter?’” Will Stone asks all his hunting guests. For 25 years, Stone has provided guiding services at South Dakota Pheasants, 35 miles northeast of Brookings, South Dakota.
“I won’t say people deliberately misinform me, but I will say there is occasionally a big difference between what they say before they get here and what they can do after they arrive… Now days, I encourage clients to get some exercise before they get here so they can make some ‘low-impact’ walks maybe up to five miles on the average across farmland. Likewise, for those who don’t shoot much or at all between seasons, I recommend at least one round of sporting clays or one trip to the local trap range before arriving for any kind of hunting experience with us. And I insist on giving everyone a heads-up talk on how to hunt pheasants with our dogs,” Stone adds.
3. Be a good learner. “Every once in awhile, I’ll get a paying customer who wants to show me that he knows more about hunting pheasants than I do. I’ll get his personal opinion and instructions on how to hunt a field, how to handle dogs, or how to shoot a shotgun.
Usually, I’ll just smile and say thank you. But, this know-it-all attitude really does get under my skin and can ruin the hunting for me and others in the party,” according to Keith Houghton. Houghton operates Ringneck Ranch, a few miles from Tipton, Kansas where he regularly guides hunts on 10,000 acres of family-owned farmland cultivated for crops and ringneck roosters.
“After a life-time of hunting nearly every day of the season, I have a certain way to hunt pheasants in cattail sloughs, cornfields or tree belts… I’ll listen to constructive criticism and change my ways if someone can show me something better. And I hope my guests will extend to me the courtesy of learning and maybe appreciating some of what I know about making their hunting experience more enjoyable,” Houghton points out.
“Every hunting trip is a learning experience for me,’ one of my clients once told me. Even after 50 years in the field, this 70 year old guy said he still learned something worthwhile and useful whenever he went hunting with someone new in a different place…That’s a good attitude, in my opinion and an open-minded approach I like to see in all our clients,” Houghton feels.
4. Be flexible. “One year I had four hunters from Michigan who came here late in the season for three days of hunting pheasants. But, because the weather was so cold, we only hunted a few hours each day. We still killed a limit of roosters each time out because the freezing temperatures and wind had bunched the birds in tight cover. But, at the end of the third day, one guy was sort of bitter and almost angry with me because he felt like we hadn’t hunted ‘long enough.’ Though the other members of his own party tried to straighten him out on this issue, he never seemed to get over it,” Jim Redlin recollects. Redlin, owner-operator of Autumn Breeze Acres Hunting Lodge, located northeast of Ellendale, North Dakota, has guided pheasant hunters for 12 years.
“Weather will have a major effect on hunting success for any species of game, so I tell all our customers to come ready for anything from sunny, summer-like conditions, to cloudy, cool maybe even winter-like experiences. I try to prepare all our clients for the psychological impact that the extremes of weather can create. Along this line of thinking, I really do try to convince them that ‘mental’ flexibility is important in adapting to changes brought by Mother Nature,” Redlin advises.
5. Bring the right gear. “I have specific recommendations on what sort of equipment to have on a hunt with us and will give everyone a complete list covering everything from the right kind of underwear and boots to the best sorts of guns and ammunition. My one request is for customers to follow my advice as closely as possible,” Bill Kuntz emphasizes. Kuntz is the owner of Oakwood Sporting Resort a few miles north of Sigourney, Iowa where he has provided pheasant hunting to thousands of guests for 22 years.
“If I tell you to bring eight-inch-high waterproof hunting boots for pheasant hunting, please don’t show up in tennis shoes. Or, if I recommend a 12 gauge with 1-¼ ounces of #6 shot for late-season roosters, please don’t bring a .410 with ½-ounce loads of #8’s. I’ve had clients actually do those sorts of things. Most all of my advice on equipment comes from a lifetime of personally using a wide variety of gear and seeing it successfully used by others in the field… I’m no absolute authority on all equipment, but I do know what usually works best in most circumstances for the kind of pheasant hunting we provide,” Kuntz says.
6. Your dog or my dog? “Every season I get calls from prospective clients who want to bring their own hunting dogs to hunt upland birds or waterfowl. ‘Sure, my dog is well trained and has all sorts of hunting experience’ they say. But, sometimes when the dog arrives, disaster follows. Their ‘perfect’ pointer runs a mile ahead of us and chases birds out of the country. Or their ‘trained’ retriever won’t retrieve but will chew on the birds or eat everyone’s lunch when we’re not looking,” Al Berg recollects. Berg, the owner of Rocky Bay Kennel and Hunt Club just outside of Pine City, Minnesota, has guided thousands of customers for 22 years on his property.
"Your dog is probably just fine,’ I tell those who ask about bringing a dog that might only hunt a couple of times each year. But remember, my dogs hunt every day of the season and do this for a living… So definitely bring your dog, but do bring a check cord or an electric collar to maintain control over him. And, maybe be ready to just hunt him part of the day in special places I have for less experienced pointers and retrievers,” Berg suggests.
Though all the suggestions here on being a better hunting guest comes from professional guides who host hunters on a commercial basis, their suggestions for having more enjoyable hunting experiences apply to any “guests” who are “hosted” by anyone. No matter who takes us on a pheasant hunt, we should treat them as our hunting buddies and appreciate their expertise and follow their advice in order for a good time to be had by everyone.