Skip to main content

Who's No. 1? South Dakota tops in pheasant hunting

Who's No. 1? South Dakota tops in pheasant hunting

GROTON, S.D. (MCT) - More than a dozen pheasants erupted like popcorn, flushing helter skelter into the sky one after another from a cattail slough. Six hunters swung their shotguns and fired a barrage of shots, dropping a couple of the birds. But most sailed over the South Dakota prairie unscathed.

"Holy cripes," Mike Smith, 56, of Cologne, Minn., said with a wide grin. "Could you believe how many birds were in there? Oh, that was fun. I missed about a dozen."

Said his son, Jeremy Smith, 33, of Plymouth, Minn.: "It was a blur. I was out of shells and trying to reload and they just kept coming."

Welcome to the South Dakota pheasant opener, an annual celebration of bird dogs, shotguns and wily roosters. An army of hunters clad in blaze-orange descends on virtually every gravel road, slough, cornfield and grassland. Motels, restaurants, bars and grocery stores are packed with hunters, and signs welcoming them are ubiquitous. Why? Because South Dakota is to pheasant hunters what Las Vegas is to gamblers or Colorado is to skiers.


It is overwhelmingly the No. 1 pheasant state in the nation. Hunters journey here from every corner of America to roust roosters.


Last year, they bagged 1.8 million of them - way more than any other state and about 1.3 million more than were harvested in Minnesota.

The opener also is all about tradition. Friends and family reunite beneath an endless prairie sky in an expansive and beautiful landscape.

Our group of six Minnesotans journeyed here for the opener, rekindling our own tradition of heading west at least once each fall to pursue ringnecks and renew friendships. Besides Smith and his son were Jack Rendulich, 54, and his son, Dan, 24, of Duluth, and Mike Porter, 53, of Minneapolis. Also along was Derrick Herther, 50, of rural Aberdeen, S.D., Mike Smith's brother-in-law and our local connection to the area. Friends of Herther allowed us to hunt their land.

As usual, South Dakota didn't disappoint.


The local Lions Club started us off right with a $5 all-you-can-eat breakfast in tiny Groton, S.D. Most of the 100 or so who showed up were hunters, anxious for a new season to begin.

Then at noon, when South Dakota's legal shooting hour arrived, the seven of us surrounded a small patch of grass and cattails. Soon the first roosters of the season squirted out the end, evading us. Then one got up and flew west toward Herther.

"I've got him," he hollered, as if calling for a fly ball in the outfield. Then he fired his .12 gauge once, and the bird tumbled to the turf.


Soon two other birds fell, both retrieved by one of our five hunting dogs.

"It's amazing a little bitty pothole like that can hold so many birds," said Mike Smith.

We hiked draws, grasslands, edges of cornfields, tree lines and patches of cattails - flushing birds and occasionally bagging some.

There were shots to remember, and shots we'd rather forget.

Then it was time to rest the dogs and break for a mid-afternoon lunch of sandwiches, chips and homemade pic kles on the tailgates of our trucks.

"Ain't this great," said Mike Smith, relishing every aspect of the trip. "And what a day."

It's still a little work

Soon we were heading in our caravan of vehicles for another hunting spot. And then another. As the sun dipped low, we tried futilely to surround a large cattail slough bordered on two sides by unharvested cornfields. We shot several ringnecks, but many more flew out of gun range. Still, the flurry meant we each ended the day with our three-bird limits.

We recounted the day around dinner and drinks at the little cabin we rented near Aberdeen. Out the back door, in the dark, we heard the cackling of pheasants in the distance.

Sunday, we did it all over again. But the birds were tougher to find. Yes, this is South Dakota. And yes, there are places where a three-bird daily limit comes easy. But with much corn still standing in the area, we worked for our birds.

By mid-afternoon, we had just three. A visit to Lobotomy Slough (named for the demise of a raccoon there a few years ago), brimming with water this year because of heavy rains, we bagged two. But it was a visit to another series of cattail patches near dusk that produced birds, giving us a baker's dozen for the day.

No one complained.

"It was just fun seeing birds," Jack Rendulich said.

The sky turned burnt orange as the sun slipped below the horizon, and we stood at our vehicles, savoring another day afield. The chill in the air signaled that fall definitely had arrived. Overhead, huge flocks of mallards rode a strong northwest wind south.

"What a day,'' Mike Smith said.

(c) 2007, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

The Hobie MirageDrive 360 pedal propulsion system is the pinnacle of kayak control with more efficient fin designs, glide technology and allows the boat to be moved in any direction.

New for 2021: Bear Redemption EKO, Legit RTH Compound Bows

New for 2021: Bear Redemption EKO, Legit RTH Compound Bows

Bear Archery's newest bows - Redemption EKO and Legit RTH - are light, adjustable and fast.

New for 2021: Rage Broadhead, Nockturnal Nock, Carbon Express Arrows

New for 2021: Rage Broadhead, Nockturnal Nock, Carbon Express Arrows

New for 2021, here's a look at the new Rage Trypan NC, Nockturnal Shift Nock, Carbon Express Maxima RED Contour and D-Stroyer PileDRIVER arrows.

A Bolt Action from Benelli?

A Bolt Action from Benelli?

We know what you're thinking: Isn't Benelli a shotgun company? Of course it is, but decades of shotgun manufacturing actually put Benelli in a unique position to redefine what a hunting rifle should be. Episode 1 reviews some company history to explain how this all came about.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

There are plenty of bowhunters who opt for the dependability of fixed-blade designs.New Fixed-Blade Broadheads for 2021 ATA Show

New Fixed-Blade Broadheads for 2021

Lynn Burkhead - January 11, 2021

There are plenty of bowhunters who opt for the dependability of fixed-blade designs.

New for 2021, the 4MM AXIS will offer bowhunters even more of what they want in a micro-diameter arrow.Easton Archery Rolls Out 4MM AXIS Long-Range Arrows Bows

Easton Archery Rolls Out 4MM AXIS Long-Range Arrows

Game and Fish Staff - November 23, 2020

New for 2021, the 4MM AXIS will offer bowhunters even more of what they want in a...

With its innovative gas system and shooter-friendly features, the Savage Renegauge semiauto shotgun ushers in a new era of American firearm design and function.Savage Renegauge Shotgun Review: A Fast-Shooting, Smooth-Cycling Semiauto SHOT Show

Savage Renegauge Shotgun Review: A Fast-Shooting, Smooth-Cycling Semiauto

Scott Haugen - November 16, 2020

With its innovative gas system and shooter-friendly features, the Savage Renegauge semiauto...

Refined, durable and well-appointed to provide shooters and hunters with O/U shotguns loaded for performance at affordable prices.New for 2021: Mossberg Reserve Series Over/Under Shotguns SHOT Show

New for 2021: Mossberg Reserve Series Over/Under Shotguns

Game and Fish Staff - January 19, 2021

Refined, durable and well-appointed to provide shooters and hunters with O/U shotguns loaded...

See More Trending Articles

More Stories

Crossbows are more popular – and legal – in more places, and statistics show they're not that much more effective than vertical bows.Few Bowhunters Can Ignore This Case for Hunting with Crossbows Stories

Few Bowhunters Can Ignore This Case for Hunting with Crossbows

Patrick Durkin - September 30, 2020

Crossbows are more popular – and legal – in more places, and statistics show they're not that...

Some folks just don't know a good buck when they see one.When the Grandstander Shows Up at the Weigh Station Whitetail

When the Grandstander Shows Up at the Weigh Station

Jeff Johnston - January 21, 2021

Some folks just don't know a good buck when they see one.

Four generations later, Faulk's Game Calls continues family tradition.Fabled Waterfowl Maker Still Turning Out Custom Calls Waterfowl

Fabled Waterfowl Maker Still Turning Out Custom Calls

John N. Felsher - January 11, 2021

Four generations later, Faulk's Game Calls continues family tradition.

See More Stories

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now