Cock pheasants are anything but birdbrained

Birdbrained  is not a label that should be given to a January cock pheasant that has survived everything man and nature has thrown at it so far. He is now in the prime of life, one not to be given up without a battle of wits. Which is what cock days are about.

Having gone over the Gun line once or twice and escaped unscathed, your average cock bird has learned that safety isn’t necessarily to be found in taking to the skies. Instead it’s all about running head down to avoid trouble. As any beater or stop on a cock day knows well, if the bird doesn’t use legs or wings to give us the slip, then it resorts to a third line of defence: concealment.

Houdini has nothing on a cock pheasant when it comes to doing a vanishing act. One moment you see several skulking forward through the undergrowth or covercrop; in the next instant, nothing. The wily bird has learned that escape is possible if he tucks up under thick cover or lies on the floor and doesn’t move a muscle. A beater can pass just inches away, oblivious to its presence, and the tighter it sits the less chance there is of a dog getting a whiff of its scent. It is extraordinary how a bird with such bright plumage can become invisible.

Why I enjoy cock days

An enjoyable part of January driven days are the slight changes a keeper has to make because the cocks are wise to his usual game plan.  Whereas before beaters had only to keep a straight line and push slowly forward, it now requires military precision to match these birds.  Outlying hedges and fields are quietly blanked-in while other beaters hold back until told to move, and stops take up their place. Otherwise a procession of cock birds will quickly spot any escape routes.

Often the shoot captain will ask four Guns to walk with the beaters and shoot cocks breaking out at the sides, the other two standing at the back of the wood to take birds curling over the heads of the beaters.

Rather than wanting to be in the middle of the line on the best drives, savvy Guns hope that it’s their turn to do some walking with the beaters, then stand back to shoot what comes their way.

Cock days – the best of the shooting season?

Organised cock-only days are very much team affairs for Guns, beaters, stops and pickers-up. When you go it alone, with only a dog, this bird is a challenge. Walking-up hedgerows, ditches and stream sides is the real deal.

You might be lucky and stumble on a cock bird within a few minutes of starting on the first hedge, but you need to know your ground and work to a plan that keeps the birds your side of the boundary as well as positioning them for the best chance of a shot. A covering of snow always adds to the excitement as you can track your quarry’s move.

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Where there is scant cover the problem is often the bird running and not giving the dog a chance of a flush.  Try swapping roles with the dog. You walk the hedge in its direction whilst the dog sits and acts as a stop. Or you can sit the dog up, walk in a wide arc to the other end of the cover then let it work its way back to you.