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SoDak pheasant hunting at its finest

December 19, 2009
By Steve Weisman - Outdoor Editor

Oh, what the heck, let's have a little blizzard just for the fun of it! Let's throw in some 50 mph winds, too! Wow, what a way to bring in our first real winter snow! I really hope this isn't a harbinger of what the rest of the winter will be like. Maybe it got it out of its system and things will settle down! Could be a long winter if things don't settle down.

Before this whole system came rolling into northwest Iowa, Jim McDonnell and I had the opportunity to participate in a Conservation Forum and Destination Hunt in South Dakota sponsored by Pheasants Forever.

Several outdoor media were invited to Highmore, South Dakota, December 1-4 to experience South Dakota pheasant hunting during the day with evenings centered around conservation topics all revolving around farming/ranching; utilizing the potential of the land while including sound conservation and habitat practices; the Farm Bill tied to wildlife priorities, along with Conservation Reserve Program; success of Pheasants Forever over the past 27 years and goals for the future.

Article Photos

Yes, it was cold! The author with his three-bird limit on a recent pheasant hunt near Highmore, South Dakota.
Photo by Jim McDonnell

So many topics and so much food for thought. Really interesting topics and ideas, many of which I will share with you over the next several weeks.

First, however, I must share a little about our hunt and the rancher who guided us on our two hunts. Highmore, for those who don't know, is located 40 miles east of Pierre and has a population of around 800 people. It is located in Hyde County and in the heart of ranching country. With 867 square miles and only around 1700 people, ranches are big.

Mike Solberg and his dad Warren own around 8500 acres and rent another 5500 acres approximately 20 miles north of Highmore. Now that's huge!

The land is divided into several parcels and on each one they rotate several crops: winter wheat, corn, grain sorghum and sunflowers. Add several shelterbelts of various size and 700 head of Black Angus cattle, and you have quite an operation.

Over the years, Mike noticed that these practices really increased the number of pheasants on the property. About four years ago, he began to offer guided pheasant hunts, and then a couple of years ago, Mike built a lodge in Highmore for pheasant hunters and, well, for anybody who wants to stay overnight, come in for a nice meal or maybe even hold a meeting. Called the Grand Lodge, it certainly is a grand place! Six hunters from Anchorage, AK were there for the week wile we were there.

But, back to the pheasant hunting. I must share one tiny hour hunt. A field of grain sorghum had been harvested (cut off at about 18 inches) with five strips left for hunting. As we walked toward the area, the pheasants began to boil out. You know how late-season birds are: jumpy!

I would envision that we saw at least 1500 birds erupt out of that sorghum field over the course of an hour. Certainly most were wild, but that was part of the fun-just the sight of birds taking to the air. Jim and I both just stopped for a moment and watched as the sky became filled with birds going north, south, east and west. To the left, to the right, behind and ahead, they just kept boiling out.

My first inclination was we had to move fast to get thereno reason. Really, we needed the majority to get out so we could hunt the individual birds that remained. I think the memory of all of those birds will remain etched in my mind forever.

Yes, we did bag our birds easily each day, but it was the huge tracts of land and the numbers of birds that I will always remember the most.

I learned some things during our evening presentations about habitat and farming practices that can make a difference in wildlife numbers while at the same time providing optimum income for the landowner.

That will be one of the topics in a future article.

Until next time, let's hope that the snow and wind stay away for a while.



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