Pheasant Hunting In South Dakota
Highlighting the experiences of Georgia Hunters On The Road.
By Deborah Wallace
Walking through the golden corn fields of Gregory, South Dakota, I suddenly hear the cackle of a pheasant and the proverbial shout from our guide, Joe, of “Rooster!” I raise my 20 gauge up at the ring-necked pheasant and shoot it to the ground. The dog runs to retrieve this magnificent, colorful bird, releasing it to his master’s hand. Joe puts the pheasant in his game bag, and my husband Paul and I proceed down the golden corn rows with the dog just ahead running with his senses abound. Again, we hear “Rooster” and Paul takes a shot this time, and the royal bird spirals to the ground.
Paul says to me, “This is pheasant hunting in Gregory, South Dakota.”
Paul bid on this pheasant hunt, donated by Stukel’s Birds and Bucks, at a fund-raising event for the Georgia Chapter of Safari Club International (SCI). After planning for our hunt for several months, the day finally came. We arrived in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and then rented a car for the drive to Gregory.
After crossing the Missouri River, all we could see were fields and fields of golden grain. The scene reminded me of “America The Beautiful,” for underneath the spacious skies amber waves of grained rolled continuously throughout the farm lands. Arriving in the quintessential town of Gregory, we were greeted by a huge bronze statue of a pheasant.
Driving down the country roads to the lodge, pheasants ran rampantly along the side of the road. We knew then that we had come to pheasant country and had made the right choice for a successful hunt. After putting away our gear and meeting the Stukel brothers, Cal, Frank and Ray, we met at the barn to begin our hunt. The barn was an old, red clapboard building built originally for an auction barn for cattle. Inside were corrals for cows and bleachers for potential buyers of the cattle. Antique farm implements and pictures of days gone by hung from the plank walls. Today it is used as an office for the Stukel’s pheasant operation, as well as a place for lunch on rainy, cold days. Instructions on rules and safety in hunting pheasants are given in the auction barn.
We were then greeted by a dog wagging its tail. The dog jumped in the back of an older model suburban, which was our hunting truck. Paul and I tried to coax the dog out not knowing he was our pheasant hunting dog. After all, the dog looked like a cross between a coon hound and a Labrador, certainly not a retriever. Soon we learned the dog’s name was Colonel and belonged to our guide, Joe. One day Joe was combining grain and a car stopped along the road, opened the door and then drove off. Out of curiosity Joe went to investigate and there was a puppy the people had left behind. He took the puppy home. He and his wife went to town for supplies and got Kentucky Fried Chicken for supper. After arriving home, they forgot about the chicken in the truck and the puppy had gotten in the box and ate all the chicken. The pup was as big around as he was tall after feasting on the chicken so the pups name became “Colonel.”
Colonel turned out to be the best hunting dog Paul and I have ever seen. He didn’t know he didn’t have a pedigree, and he didn’t care, but he knew he could hunt. He was obedient to all of Joe’s commands and knew how to zig-zag in the corn fields to flush the pheasants from the rows. Pheasants use a zig-zag running technique when they feel threatened. They can fly 35 to 45 mph; however, they don’t fly great distances.
Running is a pheasant’s best avoidance of danger. Old Colonel knew all the hiding techniques used by the pheasants. He didn’t mind the tall switch grass, cockleburs or belly diving into a wet-weather pond to retrieve the pheasants. After retrieving pheasants all day, he was rewarded with a cool drink of fresh water at the truck.
We hunted pheasants for 3 1/2 days with each of us getting our daily limit. At lunch time, all hunters gathered for a picnic under the shade of trees. Cal brought our lunch, which he had cooked, to the picnic spot. Each day he brought sandwiches, homemade soup, chips, cookies, tea and coffee. After eating lunch and a rest break, we were off for an afternoon hunt. The afternoon hunts were topped off with a delicious dinner at a different place each night. The first night we ate at a lodge overlooking the winding, picturesque Missouri River at Frank’s farm. On the drive to the lodge numerous cattle, buffalo, whitetails and mule deer dotted the landscape. Cal prepared a delicious meal of buffalo steaks, salad and potatoes. We also had a wonderful dinner at the hunting lodge of prime rib, salad and exquisite desserts.
Each morning we drove a short drive into town to eat breakfast at the local café which Cal owned. We had the same waitress each morning, and by the second day she remembered what we liked for breakfast. She could have been anybody’s mother—she was that genial. Each time we told her “thank you” for something she always said “you betcha.” As we found out, most people in South Dakota respond to thank you with “you betcha.”
We were also able to try our luck at fall Merriam turkey hunting. We had never gone fall turkey hunting as we don’t have a fall season in Georgia. We didn’t know exactly how to go about hunting them. After driving to Frank’s farm to turkey hunt, we situated ourselves on a cliff overlooking cow pastures. We saw flocks and flocks of turkeys. Paul took his diaphragm call from his shirt pocket and proceeded to call the turkeys, and they went the other way. We got a good laugh out of that. We decided the best thing to do was climb down the cliffs into a wooded bottom and wait for them. After a while, several turkeys began surrounding us and Paul was able to take one of them. We field-dressed the turkey and gave the meat to one of the cooks at the lodge.
Stukel’s Birds and Bucks is the ultimate in hunting the ring-necked pheasant. Ray Stukel professionally handles all the business side of the hunt and handled the shipping of our pheasants back to Georgia for us. The food is great; the accommodations offer more than the comforts of home. People can’t get any friendlier than those from South Dakota, and the pheasant hunting is superb and certainly an exciting challenge to the most proficient wing shooter. We will be back—you betcha!
Editor’s Note: Send Georgia Hunters On The Road stories to [email protected].