This is a hot-smoking method, essentially a really slow, smoky barbecue. You must use plucked pheasants for this recipe. It will not work with skinned birds, as they will get too dry. If you are not a hunter but want to make this, you can use a high-quality domestic chicken (regular supermarket ones are too soft and flabby) or you can buy a whole pheasant online or in some supermarkets.
Dissolve the salt and sugar in the water. Find a lidded container just about large enough to hold both pheasants. Cover them with the brine and let this sit in the fridge for at least 12 hours and up to 18 hours.
OPTIONAL:Weigh the pheasant and the water you intend to brine it in; you'll have to guess, so err on more water. Now dissolve 2 percent of that total weight -- pheasant + water -- in kosher salt in the water, then brine. This method allows you to brine the bird for days without it getting too salty.
Take the pheasants out of the brine. Set on a cooling rack under a ceiling fan or in a breezy place and let them dry for an hour or so. You can also put the birds in a container uncovered in the fridge overnight. This drying process is an important step. You want the bird damp and tacky on the outside, not soaking wet.
Smoke the pheasants over the wood of your choice – I prefer apple, hickory or pecan – for at least 3 hours, and up to 5 hours. You want a relatively warm smoke, between 200°F and 250°F. Let the pheasants smoke for 1 hour before painting on the maple syrup, then baste with the syrup every 30 minutes afterward.
When the pheasants reach an internal temperature of 160°F in the thigh meat, take them out of the smoker. Put them on a cooling rack and baste them with maple syrup one more time. Wait at least 20 minutes before eating. They are excellent cold, too.