2012 was a tale of two pheasant seasons for me. In early fall, I was invited by Dennis Foster, from Mellette, to join him as he hosted Baserri Shotguns, Honda and Focus Outdoors TV on a pheasant hunt near Doland.
I arrived late, which comes as no surprise to those who know me, but I made it in time to be reminded of how many birds there still are in South Dakota. After three short walks under gray November skies filled with the frenzy of flushing birds, we were one rooster away from our 11-man limit of 33 and decided to call it a day. It was only 1:30 p.m. I don’t care who you are or where you’re from — that’s world class by anyone’s standards.
In December, three friends from Wisconsin made the trip west to chase pheasants with me here in South Dakota. Jim Schlender, the publisher of Gun Digest the Magazine, who is also my old boss, brought his son, Jacob, and his brother, Jeff, along to partake in the vaunted South Dakota tradition. While planning the hunt in October, Jim told me before he came out that it was OK that we might have to walk a bit to find our birds. And walk we did.
For the first two long and hard-fought days, we hunted every kind of habitat imaginable in historically productive pheasant locales across the state from 10 a.m. to dusk, but the birds just weren’t there. With four guys and three yellow Labs pounding the cover, we did everything right and according to plan. It’s just nobody told the birds what those plans were.
Then, on the third day, it finally happened. We hit a dried-up slough bottom of cattails, and birds exploded from the cover in waves as we followed the dogs into the wind. It took a while, but that one walk resurrected our spirits and salvaged what had been up to that point a rather mediocre hunt. As we stopped to rest the dogs and take pictures, Jim looked at me with a smile, held up his hand to give me a high-five and said, “Now that’s South Dakota!”
It was purely a case of the haves and have nots, but I guess that’s how it goes sometimes. Or, rather, maybe that’s how it should go.
After I’ve had time to sit back and think about both hunts, it’s become more and more obvious to me how lucky I am to be from South Dakota. The first hunt’s colorful bounty reaffirmed what a precious resource we have at our fingertips, while the second hunt reminded me never to take that resource for granted.
As we near the end of a majority of the hunting seasons here in the Dakotas and start a new year, the feeling is bittersweet. While it’s true that all good things must eventually come to an end, we can take heart in the fact that when one door closes, another opens, and if we keep at it, do the necessary work and do it the right way, the land and wildlife will reward us with much more that we could ever ask for.
Perhaps more importantly, though, as we bask in the dawn of a new year, we can once again resolve to get after it again in 2013, knowing full well that we live in a verifiable outdoor paradise. After all is said and done, I think we can all agree that here in the Dakotas we are in that small, exclusive group of the haves, even if we have to be reminded every now and then of what it’s like to be one of the have nots.