Today they are primarily found in the upper North Island with smaller populations in Nelson and Canterbury. Pheasants dislike damp, cold habitats, as they do not have any down feathers. They roost in trees and tend to live in coastal dune country, exotic forestry, and fallow land covered in ink weed, blackberry, lupin, broom, boxthorn and gorse.
To hunt pheasant in New Zealand you only need a Fish & Game license and a good dog. Your local Fish & Game office will be more than happy to point you in the right direction with many being able to offer access to crown land and forestry blocks. The shooting season starts on the first Saturday in May and can extend to mid-August, depending on local regulations. Please remember that it is illegal to shoot hen pheasants.
A pheasant’s natural instinct is to hide when danger approaches – a hunter could step right over a bird without knowing. A good gun dog is essential, in the first instance to locate and flush the birds, and if one is successfully shot, to retrieve the fallen bird.
Once you have shot your bird it is best to let it hang for a day or two in a cool place, before dressing. This will allow the meat to set and the longer you hang it, the more tender it will become. In ‘Olde England’ dead birds were hung by the neck until they fell and the feathers started to shed. A very strong stomach was then needed to pluck, gut and clean them.
A delicately flavoured bird, pheasants are a game meal you can present to your friends without the strong gamey taste of other game birds.