Sodak Recap

By any measure, the 2010 South Dakota Pheasant Hunt was a success. Good food and lodging, great camaraderie, plenty of birds and fantastic memories. I would highly recommend Marv Schlomer and Pheasant Cove Outfitters to anyone looking for that top-quality genuine South Dakota pheasant hunting experience.

Marv and Carol set us up for success starting the very first night, with the open bar, appetizers, steaks that were 2 inches thick, and a commemorative bottle of Gentleman Jack at each place setting. From there on, it wouldn't have mattered if we froze and went bust, we were having a good time.

Tommy after his "Rained-Out Baseball" hand
We started a little three day tradition of nightly poker, dealer's choice. That didn't mean much to anyone until Tommy pulled out a cocked-up version of the game called "Rained-out Baseball" that I haven't seen since summer camp in junior high. And who would you expect to win, but the big guy himself. After that, we stuck to tournament-style Hold 'Em, which despite the learning curve for the old fogies in our crowd that don't watch a lot of WSOP on ESPN2, resulted in a dominant win by Dad, with Tommy in second place. I think all the young guys just went all-in early so they could get back to the open bar.

Loaded up on Marv's Magic Bus
The first full day of hunting was just that - a full day. Shooting time is 10am, which left room for sleeping off the hangover and a leisurely gourmet breakfast by Carol of french toast, eggs over easy and some local sausage that was out of this world. We kitted up and piled in to Marv's Magic Bus - a converted "short bus" that he bought off the local school district, outfitted with gun racks, shell locker, dog boxes and a folding lunch table. This is really the key to a fun hunt - instead of hunkering down in the back of a snowy pickup, we were carted off in style with all of our shotguns suspended from the walls and the dogs howling to get up and go.

My second bird of the hunt, on a hilly
and rocky strip of natural grassland.
Birds were slow coming in that first day - two or three pheasants per field, lots of walking and blocking and realizing that when Marv tells the blockers to run to get into position, he doesn't mean you should just lollygag your way out there. At several fields, we would see 20-30 birds pour out of the field the minute the bus pulled up, leaving us to cul through the dumb birds that stayed behind. Particularly sneaky were the roosters, which had been heavily hunted for three months now, and knew exactly what we were up to. But hell, a full day hinting beats just about anything else, and we got more productive as the day progressed.

I ended up with 4 birds, more than my share of the group limit, and I know i missed at least three more that I should have had. The last field of the day, and hour-long effort over 20 acres of land, filled out the bag for the group. We got everyone into position the right way, moved the team through the field like we'd been hunting together forever, and walked back to the bus with Rooster # 36 and all his brethren in tow. The last shot I took, Chris and I lined up on the flush at the same time, and I beat him to the trigger by about a half-second, rewarded with a leg drop and feathers tumbling ot the ground. The only bummer was the 5MPH ride back to the house because of a shot wheel bearing on Marv's bus - but cold beer and Carol's two-inch think pork chops (even better than the steaks) quickly remedied this.

We piled into the Suburbans on day two, after another night of beer and poker (and shenanigans in the hot tub), and headed south to Akaska, SD to hunt this other fella's farm. The birds were hot and heavy, and in 90 minutes of walking and shooting we limited out. Which was a good thing, because there were some folks hankering to get back to the lodge to watch the USC-Auburn game. We took a few trophy shots, celebrated our impeccable shooting, a took off back for hot lunch and some football.



"The Group" - right after "The Field"
We caught the second half of UNC's victory over Ken-tuck, left a couple of guys back to watch the USC game, and headed out in search of the wily Sharptail Grouse. It wasn't that we were bird-hungry - we'd gotten our fix on pheasant that morning. But when you have the opportunity to hunt this beautiful country, you really want to do it until the sun goes down. We worked a couple of fields, moved two coveys around, but they stayed so far in front of us that we didn't have any great shots. The other guys loaded up, and Steve from Minneapolis and I walked it in to the lodge from about two miles out. If you could have seen the sun set over this wide-open rolling Dakota land, you'd've stayed out too.

We got out of bed early Sunday morning to a snow storm, and staged for a quick hunt before we headed off to the airport. I admit, prior to the trip I was a little worried about hunting in the Dakotas in December, but now I think this might just be the ideal time. The snow and the hoar frost and the close silence of nature in winter seems like it makes the bird hunting all the more pure. We roused a big buck out of a copse, and he galloped off through the snow, and the birds flew thick and fast. I was hunting between a couple of locals with a brace of  3:1 lab-pointer cross dogs, and they were in high spirits, which adds immensely to the overall experience. There is something special about working in a dog-man-gun team that makes me care not a whit if I bring a bird home or not. I winged a bird and had to chase him when he stated running - by this time I'd learned that if you give chase, you had better be sprinting, not just at a trot. Even so, every time I caught a glimpse through the grass he was 10 yards in front of where I thought he would be. He started to take off, and I knew the dog wasn't too far behind, so I took a crazy off-hand shot without breaking stride and managed to score a hit. "Spencer" the dog came flying by and finished him off for me in a cloud of feathers and snow, and we trotted back to our flanker position. I wish I could have brought Dean along, because he would have had the time of his young life. One day, one day.

The full photo archive from the trip is online here, hosted on Picasa.

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