Pheasants in Winner, SD
n September 26th at 10:47am I received a text message from Cody, “October 19th-23rd…what do you got going?” A few minutes later a dropped pin in Google maps, Winner, SD. “This feels very cryptic, ” I replied. He responded with a photo that could only mean one thing (see below).
ay One – Cody and crew piled into the house at around 10:30 on Thursday. After about an hour and a half pitstop, we took off with our sights on South Dakota by way of Blair, NE. The trip to Kansas City was a path I’d journeyed maybe a hundred times and one I enjoyed as I eagerly pointed out landmarks and milestones of past adventures & fond memories. The stretch from KC to the border was, however, as unfamiliar as it was uninteresting. Once we hit the Iowa border, though, we began seeing tons of migrators. Our eyes lit up and fingers began pointing at the end of outstretched hands. Speculation ensued. “Those ducks? Nah those are geese, lessers, maybe.” We were driving in the Missouri River bottom, which had just experienced some high water. The ducks and geese were loving the flooded crop, though I’m sure, the farmers did not share the fowl’s opinion. We stopped off in Blair, NE shared food and roof with Cody’s Aunt and Uncle, their children, and their grandchildren.
ay Two – Friday started slowly, a theme that was just beginning to be revealed. We had no real hurry or agenda for the day – a stop at the Desoto National Wildlife Refuge, a stop at Scheels, and a comparatively short 4.5 hour drive – but moving slowly is something that has always bugged me. I have always had a problem enjoying the moment (for example, we went on a hike this spring & in summation of the event, a friend remarked “Doesn’t seem like you hike to enjoy nature or the experience. Seems like you hike just to get it done.”) and in hind sight welcome the slow pace of this journey. As I grow and age and now watch my kids do the same, time never seems to move slowly enough to meet my expectations – and yet, I’m impatient. Though the refuge was more sparsely populated than we had hoped, we found a little honey hole full of Pintails and Widgeons. After “oohing” and “ahhing” for a bit we hit Scheels & handled all their fine shotguns before making a pit stop at Runza and pointing the truck towards Winner. We grabbed a late dinner in Spencer, NE at a little diner/package liquor store, which had emptied out thanks to the sate cross country championships. Winner came on us around 8:30. It was great to see old friends and make new ones as we huddled around the kitchen island of the modular house we’d call home for the next three days, but we were ready for sleep and turned in not much later.
Day Three – For those of you that aren’t familiar, pheasant season opens at noon on the Third Saturday of October. Being as we couldn’t hunt til 12pm (and the crew we hunted with were happy if the wheels started rolling before One) we had a lazy morning. We woke up late and had breakfast at Shirley’s, a local diner that was packed to the gills with old men dressed in khaki and blaze orange. We then hit a local gun shop & a sporting goods store for ammunition and our permits before heading out to the farm. Upon arrival, we checked our gear and stood around talking until it was time to load up! Saturday was the only day the could even be remotely considered “Fall temperatures” with a high of 72 on day three and 67 on day four. We started in at 12:26. Walking a ditch full of grass & cat tails that gave way into a corn field with just the ends stripped off. The first pass of the day didn’t hold much in the way of birds, but did produce a dead coyote. Our first field turned out to be a bellwether of things to come. Not many birds taken in the standing corn, which was far more prevalent than usual thanks to a rainy summer which pushed the harvest back. Most of the birds we found on day one came in singles and doubles from cane that had grown to about 10 feet before falling over, making walking arduous to say the least. We ended the day at around 6:30 with 19 birds in hand for 15 hunters and headed back into Winner for pizza. Sleep came easy and we turned in around 10pm feeling good for the effort we’d exerted if not the outcome we’d attained.
ay Four – Our second day of hunting started with a quick breakfast. We were joined beneath the golden arches by Bill and Matthew Jones before booking it out to the farm again. Bill has been coming up to this same farm to hunt pheasants for nearly 40 years with a revolving cast of characters, including his son Mathey who has made the pilgrimage 26 out of his 28 years. The last couple years they have brought their trailer to haul a load of alfalfa hay back to Arkansas for their horses. We helped them load it full before commencing to hunt around 12:40 PM. The hunting was more of the same, but the real highlight was the retrieval rate. We ended up retrieving 21 birds out of 20 shot. Blair, our guide’s dog, tracked down a cripple from the previous day. We broke for lunch and a short rest around three then continued hunting until 5:30 or so. It’s become a tradition for the Jones boys to bring up fish and fry on the second night. As we sat around Dwayne’s new shop/house, Bill told us stories of seasons passed where the whole town of Winner and then some would show up for the fish fry. He told us stories about Cody’s grandfather, about birds so thick that they blotted out the sun! It doesn’t get better than potlucks and yarns from old-timers. As I sat there and listened, I couldn’t help but think that this was the real prize of the trip.
Day Four – On the third and final day of the hunt, we decided that we’d get up early and go scope out a pond we had passed each morning that was holding a ton of ducks. We’re not really sure what happened, but someone dropped the ball (ok, it was me – I told Cody and Blake I’d wake them up, forgot about telling them that, then wondered why they weren’t waking up as I sat at the dining room table editing photos) and we missed the morning flight. There were, still, plenty of birds on the pond which we watched for probably thirty minutes before heading in to Colome for breakfast. We arrived at the Feed Mill around 9:55 am and, though we were warned upon sitting down not to expect to receive any food quickly, we barely got to the farm (a commute of 4 minutes) before shooting time. While the wait was rough, the food was not – especially considering everything was made to order in what looked to be a home kitchen. Brings that old phrase to mind: “Hunger is the best seasoning.” Well, it worked on us! With long drives in everyone’s future, the group decided we’d have a short day of hunting. We walked a few long rows of cane, a couple half mile passages of corn, and the first field we had hit on day one. We took nine birds with 11 guys, cleaned them, loaded up and hit the road! The ride home was mostly uneventful. We were eager to get home and made good time – already talking about our next trip to South Dakota.
|Date||Birds Downed||Birds Retrieved||Yield||Weather||Temperature||Miles Traveled||Total Time||Yield/Time||Location||Ownership||Total Cost||Yield/Cost|
|10/18-10/23||7||5||82.5||Clear||53-69||1405||39:25:00||1 oz/28:40m||Winner, SD||Private||$562.42||1 oz/$6.82|