The first English pheasants arrived in Wellington in 1842 and further liberations resulted in the bird being abundant in both islands by 1870. The pheasant population then plunged into a remarkable decline, from which it has never recovered, due to eating poisoned grain used for rabbit eradication followed by the release of stoats and weasels to quell the rabbit plague.
However, there are still enough pheasants for hunting, assisted in some areas by annual releases of hand reared stock.
The pheasant could almost be called a North Island species with its stronghold in the warmer climate of the far north. In the South Island pheasants are limited to the Nelson area and some coastal riverbeds, plus a few other isolated habitats in Canterbury.
Pheasants have no down and dislike damp conditions. They are found in coastal dune country, exotic forestry, lupin, broom, box-thorn, ink weed and briar patches. Look for patches of inkweed, rough covered gullies and crops such as maize.
Pheasant feed on a wide range of berries, seeds and other vegetation. Cock pheasants are polygamous and mate with several hens. Nesting usually begins in September and may continue through to January. Six to 14 eggs are laid in a hollow in the ground located in thick cover.
In the North Island, pheasant hunting season generally begins on the first weekend of May and generally lasts until mid-August. However, regulations vary between each Fish & Game region and it is important to check local game bird hunting regulations. For example, in some regions the season is a month shorter and in the South Island pheasant shooting may only be permitted for a single day. Please remember, you can only take male birds (roosters). It is illegal to shoot hen pheasants (females); they are protected as the providers of next year’s crop.
In some regions exotic forestry blocks are available for pheasant hunting under the control of local Fish & Game Councils. Some forestry blocks are ‘open’ which means they can be hunted by any number of people. Other blocks operate on a ballot system where hunters require a permit that must be applied for well before the start of the game bird hunting season. Most forestry companies require you to obtain a hunting permit.
Pheasants are vocal birds, particularly towards the end of the season as territorial disputes are settled. As a result they can be easily located. They have good hearing and sight and successful hunting requires elements of silence and surprise.
When pheasants are flushed they often glide for quite a distance before landing and running at high speed. Often they will sit tight in dense vegetation. One trick is to stop frequently, which can unnerve a hiding bird in thinking that you’ve seen it, and send it into flight. You can also team up with other hunters to walk in a line through crops and flush pheasants ahead.
The best pheasant hunting occurs on bright days. Sunny spells have the birds moving about from daybreak to mid morning and again from mid afternoon to dusk.
A good dog is almost essential as pheasants can be difficult to flush from cover. While cock birds are easily located and flushed, shot birds can be difficult to find. Breeds like labradors, pointers and spaniels are very useful as they flush and retrieve the birds.
Open choked shotguns used in conjunction with number 6 shot offer hunters a good chance of bagging a pheasant.
Due to the typical terrain and weather, pheasant hunting requires different clothing than waterfowl hunting - lightweight boots and clothing. Because pheasant hunters often hunt in a group through scrubby terrain many hunters use brightly coloured hunting vests or hats as safety items. Vests also have plenty of room for ammunition and retrieved birds.
If you would like more information on pheasant hunting in your area, please click on the map above to select your local region. Here you can read all about local regulations and hunting spots and find contact details for your nearest Fish & Game office, who can give you specific local advice.
Alternatively, you can contact the Fish & Game New Zealand Council on (04) 499 4767 or fax (04) 499 4768.