KwickLabs First South Dakota Pheasant Hunt

My first trip to South Dakota was after a very long wait. However, right at 68 years… was not a disappointment.  My vet, Dan, our five dogs and I left Milton, Wisconsin about 11:30 am on Tuesday and drove to Sioux Falls, SD.  There, we met Al from Arkansas and stayed at a motel for the night. A steady rain was predicted through the next day. So rather than hunting a few spots in the rain “on the way out” to our rented house farther west, the plan was to drive through the “weather” to Java, SD. We were to “hook up” with the rest of the group at the home base. That plan worked out fairly well.

No rain was falling when we arrived in Java. There was plenty of time to unload and prepare for our first day of hunting. Shooting time the first few days of the season began at noon. Dan’s three friends had started a day earlier than us and hunted mostly in the rain.  It had been a difficult day for them. We hunted the first part of that afternoon without any rain. Then another late shower drenched and chilled us. I could not feel my trigger finger when we finished.

The weather predictions were for daily temperatures in the forties and fifties (cooler at night). The dogs were able to last all day.  Dan’s five year old, experienced Wirehaired Pointing Griffon did an excellent job of working spooky, wise pheasants. Hank impressed me every day with bird savvy. The biggest problem we had was that none........that is zero......of the corn was picked. So naturally, vast fields of standing corn offered a safe haven for most of the birds.

We worked the grassy walk-in areas next to un-harvested crops (many were of too poor a cover to  hold birds), several "shelterbelts", large sloughs surrounded by cut beans or wheat, many “dug outs”, a two mile stretch of a real old and overgrown railroad and several federal waterfowl production areas. One of the members of our group owned a section of land which we hunted plus there were a couple of private lands that Dan knew from previous trips that allowed us on. In addition, permission was obtained from another new land owner to hunt his property. I now have a very different perspective on the word “huge”.

During the four days of hunting, our group of six split up except for one late afternoon hunt at a large divided slough. They had a lot of dogs, too. By doing this, we could double up on scouting and hit a few of the really good areas a couple of days later. Each day had us driving nearly 100 miles out from the base in Java to scout or hunt. For stark reality (for me), we walked probably 6-10 miles per day............hunting from noon to sunset. The last day we could start at 10 am.  It was not easy. Early on Dan said that the corn was our “enemy”. He was right, but there was still plenty of steady action.

The largest “bunches” of birds were found the last hour before sunset. However, the numbers shot then were few because they were spread out so far apart.  After, the first shot, most flushed wildly and quickly…..they knew. Even though we only bagged a few roosters during those me the shear number of birds was nothing but spectacular. Most everyone else seemed to think it was fairly normal.

The three day grouse hunt, a week before had grossly revealed how badly out of shape I was. Even though there were times I just could not keep up with my two friends, my knee did not seem to give me as much trouble as I had expected. I had corrected the footwear issue which had been the biggest issue on the grouse hunt. Another thing which seemed to make a tremendous difference was the consistent “appearance” of roosters with the accompanying rush of adrenalin. Adrenalin is an exquisite, natural pain killer and produces positive reinforcement to keep going forward.

The last two days were the warmest, but remained in the forties and fifties.......perfect. Taffey (my oldest) and Hank (Dan’s dog) began to show signs of the cover’s abrasiveness. Raw noses and a few bloody spots on their legs started to show up. I put a nylon vest on Taffey to protect her “undercarriage”. She’s always had large nipples which became even bigger after her two litters. They weren’t faring too well.........past pink.....with some blood.

As the days passed, it was very clear Hank knew what he was doing...................and my dogs were inexperienced.  It showed. They were in shape though. Taffey’s work was OK....had some points and retrieved downed birds.  One rooster had both of them on point (not sure which was backing) from a long distance. That was pretty cool. However, Taffey was not keenly aware of how much more difficult it was “to work” these wild birds until the very last day. A few more trips will make a difference. I do have another five day opportunity on this year's license. 

Taffey's speed to a downed bird improved dramatically after realizing if it didn’t, Hank would get them all. Steady to wing and shot was not followed.......Dan and I were in agreement on this. Some might disagree.........but that’s another topic.  

As for my other three dogs.......Kooly was mostly out of control. As each minute passed when he was out.....Kooly kept extending his range. Being a flushing dog and combined with birds that mostly ran ahead of us.......he was only used two times. There was really no need to train when the other dogs were doing fine. So you might say Kooly got the “short end of the stick” on this trip. Daisy was pretty much clueless with all the scent and spent three days trying to put things together. Toward the end, I was happy with her improvement.  She got into some birds and had a few shot over her.

Gunny the some ways was better than I thought he would be. Gunny went out once a day….....the last three days. However, he never showed any point.........very few birds held for any point unless they were pushed a long way and decided to finally hold. This process required a very  experienced dog to sustain the same trail.......on the same bird.

The second day, I had split off from Dan, Al and Hank so that Gunny could hunt without as many distractions. It helped. Late the third day (second time out), he worked the scent of a hen and rooster for a long time before we finally cornered them (kind of) in spot where the cover disappeared. They weren’t going to hold, and the hen went up first. It was almost the end of shooting time…..and I’m has to happen now.............the day is almost over. My wish came true. A rooster had slipped off to our right, evidently couldn’t stand the disappearing cover and flushed. My thoughts were..........I have to drop this bird........I HAVE TO!

It was just another typical South Dakota windy day, but there was no need for excuses. My swing was free and easy. The shot was perfect. Gunny had his first wild rooster. The second best “event of the moment” was the van was only 50 yards away. I was “gassed”...........What a day!

The last afternoon, Gunny and I had again split off from Dan and Al when Hank started pushing birds. I physically could not keep up with them. The weather predictions for the day were forty mile per hour plus winds (and they were right).  As Gunny and I angled to the right (to cut the field), they disappeared behind some hilly terrain. Later, I heard two quick shots. Soon after, a big rooster, swept by the high winds, peeled out over the horizon and made a "beeline" straight for us. I froze. When he was about seventy yards out, I mounted my Benelli M1 and he flared off to the left (my good side).............and greatly aided by the wind. Geez, he was really “booking”.

The first shot was clearly behind him. I knew the next would be my last. Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised when he appeared to fold up dead with a clean kill. Gunny was off to my right and at least 125 yards away from the area of the fall. He saw what had happened and was streaking toward the rooster. He didn’t quite make it. This cover was waist high and the rooster was downwind. Gunny broke down short and started hunting. Not knowing if it were really dead, I decided to get him to the area of the fall immediately.

Gunny responded crisply to a few whistles and casts........good pup. After I got him beyond the bird,  Gunny completed his first "handling aided mark" in a real hunting situation. It was the last bird of the last day. There is a special exhilaration to recalling those first few wild birds your young dog brings back. What a wonderful finish to an unforgettable hunting trip.

The three of us put in a lot of walking miles those four days. The dogs did well (mine learned a lot) and lasted. Dan, Al and I had more than enough opportunities and were extremely content with the results. We were only six birds short of a four day limit of roosters.  It wasn’t the standing corn and weather conditions were difficult at times, but thirty wild roosters left South Dakota.......on ice.

The next morning, we exited the “Java House” at six am....with an eleven hour drive home (for me).
South Dakota was "dishing out" temperatures in the low thirties with sixty mile per hour winds and a hint of dusting snow.......a good day to leave.  note: should have taken way more pictures

             "Dan & Al"
               "Jim & Al"
                           "one to go"
          "off the road" 
            "Dan planning"
                         updated 01/28/14