by Bret Amundson
Could there be a better way to raise money for outdoor youth activities than a pheasant hunt in South Dakota?
Some might say a “How about a pheasant hunt in Minnesota!” And that would be a great answer but until we have the population of wild birds that our neighbors to the west have, it’s just going to be tough to compare the two. Hopefully we’ll make some progress as a result of the 1st ever Minnesota pheasant summit and implement some new ideas to increase roosters in our backyard.
But for now, a trip to South Dakota is always fun for the person who loves to chase long tails.
I’d be going to Ringneck Retreat in Hitchcock, South Dakota with the guys behind KKIDS: Jeff and Vern Boer from Wild Dakota TV, along with 19 other visitors.
This weekend will raise funds for events like the one they have coming up where kids get hands on experience with outdoor activities and gear.
“This year will be our 6th Annual KKIDS Family Day at the Range,” said Jeff Boer. “They can learn anything from firearm safety, archery, invasive species, air rifles, rifles-you name it. Anything outdoor related at 30 different stations that we set up for them that they can do for free.” Watch their Facebook page for more details about this event.
Ringneck Retreat would be hosting orange-clad hunters from Wisconsin, Minnesota and South Dakota, including 3 people who’d never shot a wild pheasant.
We arrived to find a towering lodge with big windows, thick white pine logs and three levels that intersect within the big, open great room. Ringneck Retreat was built 8 years ago on the edge of this small town about 15 minutes from Huron. They offer guided hunting for wild pheasants, waterfowl and spring snow goose hunting.
“I believe in kids and Keeping Kids In the outDoors,” lodge owner Darik Tschetter said. “The hunting industry and in the hunting world, there’s a lot less kids getting outside and doing these things. People need to keep that going; it’s a lot of tradition and it needs to be passed on.
The first day would offer warmer temperatures than we’d been accustomed to lately in region. We’d walk huge tracts of grass, tree groves and sloughs. Bird numbers were respectable compared to what we’d seen the week before in southwestern Minnesota, but not the numbers Darik had hoped to see. The balmy weather had taken roosters that were grouped in heavy cover and moved them back out across the fields.
“It was rough,” Darik explained. “The conditions were tough. It’s been cold, really cold, and the birds were bunched up nice finely, they were in the cattails so we knew where they were at. But we got a break in the weather where it got warm and the birds scattered out on us a bit again, but we found birds, we put ’em up and there was a lot of shooting going on.”
The tougher conditions didn’t stop us from bringing 34 of them back to camp, however.
The night included a stuffed pork loin that had been sizzling on the grill for the duration of our afternoon hunt. For those with energy left, a poker game was started as an additional source of funds for KKIDS.
Day 2 brought morning fog due to the 51 degree temperature. That allowed for lighter clothing during the long, hard slogs through thick spots with nicknames like “Heart Attack Slough”.
But halfway through an area called “Big Slough”, I realized that the changes were coming: The temperature had dropped about 15 degrees and the wind picked up. This type of cold-combo but usually one that would yield results. As we walked face first into a biting north wind, pointing and flushing dogs would hurry back and forth, nose to the ground chasing fly-shy birds in circles. Every once in a while however, you’d get an explosion from the reeds and a rooster would take flight pointed to the north, then bank around to the south to catch the wind while gaining altitude. This would create a defining moment for bird and shooter: Can he make it through the long line of blaze orange that is canvasing his turf and throwing up a lead curtain?
A few lucky ones would sneak through, but most of the time, they’d be met with a thundering round of gun shots creating some of the more memorable scenes: roosters that had been flying at full speed with a strong tailwind suddenly folding and dive bombing the person responsible for their demise.
Experiences shared always outweigh bird count totals and August Gustafson would shoot her first wild pheasant with the Wild Dakota camera’s rolling.
“Now walking through the cattails isn’t so bad!” August said after bagging her first bird. “That was awesome.”
Some memories come from stories of past hunts, like the one Darik shared with us about one lucky, then unlucky rooster:
“A bird gets up by the wingman on the right side of the field,” Darik tells us. “He shoots 2 or 3 times at this bird and I didn’t see a feather get touched. The bird turns and it flies back at the very first guy in the walking line on that side and flies across everyone. Everyone shoots at this bird a minimum 2, probably 3 times-I did not see a feather get hit on it. It turns and takes a pass by the wingman on the left side of the field. He empties his gun, again, not a feather touched, (laughs).”
I can picture a pheasant flying back and forth matrix-ing his way across the 10-plus shooters and a smirk coming over him as the realization kicks in that he made it all the way through the gauntlet.
“I was amazed at this point,” Darik continued. “But what really topped it off (is) this bird (then) flew head-first into a high line pole and committed Harry Carry right there. I told the guys, ‘You know why that happened don’t you? Because that bird was looking over his wing laughing back at you guys as he was flying away and didn’t see that pole!”
At the end of the day, the group packed up and headed back to their various hometowns, while a couple of us stayed in the area for one more day. I talked Darik into a quick walk before heading out of town as an impending blizzard approached. Conditions were more favorable for finding birds than the previous days and we found them sitting in heavy cover. We put a few more in the cooler then began a drive that would last nearly 3 hours longer than it should have with a few white-knuckle moments along the way. But that’s the way late season hunting goes….while Mother Nature gets ornery, hunting gets better.
Great hunting, new friends and first-timers combined with raising money for an organization to keep youth in the outdoors equals the type of hunts that we like to be a part of time and time again.
Listen to Darik talk more about hunting at his lodge in Hitchcock, South Dakota on this week’s MNSJ Radio show.