Redfield, South Dakota. Even when it’s bad it’s good. That’s the best way to describe South Dakota pheasant hunting this fall following a devastating winter and equally destructive spring.
Pheasants are just big birds and, like the birds at your feeder, they can fall victim to severe winter weather that prevents them from finding food and shelter. Normal Dakota winters are brutal but the 2011-12 freeze was nothing short of Ice Station Zebra doubled.
Next came spring when record rains soaked crop fields and vital nesting areas. Thus the state’s annual well-documented and time proven estimate of brooding success was down by almost one half.
Nevertheless, our group of experienced South Dakota bird hunters felt compelled to carry on our regular hard drive west to do our thing. We hunt the Edgar Black Angus farm just west of Redfield, a farm first and pheasant haven second; our kind of place, where bird hunting is an equal mix of shoe leather and sore muscles.
What we found was as reported, fewer birds and less cover and crop land. According to Mark Edgar, it was just too wet to get corn and other early plantings in to the ground so beans became the number one product. Corn leavings are like gold to pheasants and favorite places to explore for pheasant hunters.
Fortunately, the Edgar farm covers plenty of non-crop acres such as deep and heavy swales of cattails and tangled grasses, jungles of stuff where pheasants can hide — and survive.
A hunting day in South Dakota starts at 10 a.m., a late start designed to allow birds to fill their gullets on their way to a protective day bed.
We hunted hard from the opening bell to day’s end with great success, the kind of satisfaction that comes with hard hunting and an occasional bird in hand. No, we did not kill our limits, but we are all old enough to enjoy the hunt more than the harvest. Even if it means leg cramps and chapped skin.
Our weather ranged from 50 degrees to 15 below, the kind of swing that justifies duffle bags filled with layers on layers of clothing, socks and gloves. Adding a stiff wind to 15 below zero is something that is best left in South Dakota.
Hopefully, this winter is kinder and the coming spring more friendly because pheasants are one of, if not the top draws in South Dakota. With decent conditions, it shouldn’t take more than a couple years for the birds to recover.