Pheasant season. One of the most looked forward to adventures in South Dakota. Not only do the locals yearn for this time of year, but it also brings out-of-state hunters from hundreds and even thousands of miles away. Many of them have their dogs trained specifically for upland hunting and then work with them the rest of the year to take part in the traditionalized event of pursuing the South Dakotan pheasant. Family traditions are built around this. Kids have grown up hunting pheasants and have eventually raised their children with the ideology of hunting. They have been taught how to enjoy what nature has to offer and how to respect the wildlife. They have learned to treat the land that they are hunting on as if it was theirs. And they have grown to realize that hunting is not a right, but an honor, and an opportunity not to be taken for granted.
I was one of the lucky kids when I was growing up. I had no idea then how lucky I was; as a matter of fact, I was normally jealous of other kids because of the things they had. We weren’t rich. We didn’t have a big fancy house or brand new vehicles. We weren’t the type of family that competed with the neighbors for expensive toys and we rarely went on vacations. But what we did have was a tradition. And this tradition has been something that I will never forget. Every year after school started, I knew what was coming. I knew that hunting with my dad was going to happen. Of all the hunting that we have done since I was old enough to hunt, and even before that when I would ride along, pheasant season always seemed to excite me the most.
As I think back to those childhood days, it is amazing the things that stick in your mind. Sometimes it is something that you are doing and it immediately brings you back in time. Some mornings when I go out to start my pickup and let it warm up, I immediately think of early weekend mornings as a child. Dad would yell up the stairs with his rooster crow sounds to wake me up and then that coffee brewing smell would remind me that the time has come. It is time to get ready for what I always looked forward to. Dad would always go out and get the pickup running before I was even ready to go. The exhaust is in the air, the heater is warming the truck up, the frost is melting off of the windows, and we begin loading our hunting equipment up. The air is still, and we are hoping that the breeze picks up a bit so the birds don’t hear us from so far away.
It wasn’t only dad and I that had a part in the hunting. Before we would head out and try our luck with bringing home some game, mom would always have things ready for us. She knew that while we are out, the hunger would set in and many times we would not be back for lunch. My favorite go-to sandwiches were peanut butter and jelly or tuna salad. She would always send along some hot chocolate in a thermos for me and some coffee for dad. She would make sure that we are dressed warm enough and would send us on our way. Ah the memories that come back. It didn’t matter if we got our limit or not, it was always fun spending time hunting with my dad. As I think about it and look back, to him it wasn’t just about hunting, it was something much more than that. It was creating that bond, spending time with his son, and teaching me life’s lessons that I will never forget. Many times, I hear myself telling my kids the same things that I remember him telling me. That always brings a smile to my face!
Over the years I have begun to wonder something though. I never really thought about it until later in life. It seems like most people only hunt pheasants during the early part of the season and completely disregard late season hunting. Once rifle deer season comes and goes, pheasant hunting dwindles down and many hunters retire their dogs for the season. They get their shotguns all cleaned up and put back in the gun safe, store their pheasant hunting clothing away, and opt out of the best part of the rest of the season. Why would hunters want to do this? With the pheasant season running into January, why do most people quit in November?
Late season hunts offer all types of different, and quite arguably, better pheasant hunting opportunities than early season. Sure, late season hunts are generally a little colder and there may be more snow on the ground (depending on the year), but the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. For one, all the crops are harvested which forces the pheasants into sloughs, CRP, and shelter-belts making it much easier to get more birds. The sloughs are frozen over, so it is easier for hunters and their dogs to flush pheasants out without trudging through water and muck that almost pulls your boots off from the suction. Another opportunity that late season hunts offer is the fact that the birds are bunched up more which creates some amazing flushes offering tremendous chances of getting your limit. With the lack of other hunters out in the fields, the birds are not as nervous and weary as they are during the early season due to getting high amounts of pressure from multiple groups of hunters. They have had some time to relax and get back in their norm.
If you are truly interested in some amazing pheasant hunts, and want to try out a completely different type of hunting, then you need to experience the late season. Don’t put your shotgun away for the year. Grab your buddies, your wife, your kids, and get back out in the fields. Start some new traditions. Experience some new styles of hunting. There are so many opportunities out there that many people fail to take advantage of.
Once you realize that you do want some of the best late season pheasant hunts, and you want to start some new traditions in life, check out what South Dakota has to offer. We will show you the birds; however, it is up to you to shoot them. So come on over and let’s hunt ‘em up!