Thursday, October 28, 2010

South Dakota Pheasant Hunting

South Dakota is the pheasant mecca of the U.S. (world?) for Chinese ringneck pheasants.  Any serious bird hunter aspires to make this pilgrimage at least once in their life.  We had the time and the dog so we made it happen this year.  We more or less blindly poked a finger at a map, only favoring the western half of the state (less driving) than the more famed eastern side.  We weren't at all disappointed.

More than once we would walk into a field and flush 100's of pheasants during a hunt.  The number of birds in this state is just mind-blowing.  We took 35 roosters (males) overall in our four days there and I'm not even sure we made a dent in any one field's population.


Saxtor said...

Since I'm getting a crash course in hunting, I've got more luddite questions for you.

Aside from pissing me off in the NES game, what role does the dog play when hunting? Are dogs used only in bird and fox hunts? You say you took 35 roosters. Are you not allowed to harvest hens? If you'd alarm 100 pheasants at a time, how do you only select the males?

Anonymous said...

You look great.
I love you.


Dave said...

All good questions!
The dog plays a vital role in pheasant hunting. She is bred just for this sort of thin because she is small (for getting under brush), has short hair (to avoid picking up burrs), a long tail (for our visibility), and an incredible nose. She uses all of those traits to zig-zag back-and-forth in front of us while we hunt. Her nose is the primary tool, looking for the scent of a bird that has passed through. When she picks up a scent, she'll follow it out, hopefully flushing the bird. When hunting early in the season (lots of first-year "dumb" birds still around) we'll flush them just with our orange colors walking through as much as she will with her nose, but later in the season when birds will either run waaaay out ahead and fly (no chance on those) or hold really tight, the dog plays a good role in getting close enough to actually catch a bird live (which she's done once before) so it will take off. Without her we wouldn't know the bird was there and it would let us walk past.
Her other, more important, role is to track down birds once we have shot them. About one-third of the roosters we shoot go down alive and running, so it's good to have her scent-tracking ability to run them out. Unfortunately, often she doesn't see the bird go down so it's tough to walk her over to the spot and explain there is a bird she needs to find in amongst the scent of many other birds (since this is SD, there are pheasants - and scent - everywhere). So I think we still lost about 2-4 birds/day.
No, we're not allowed to harvest hens. It's one of the challenges of pheasant hunting to only select the roosters. When they take off with the sun at your back it's not too hard to tell - they are really colorful (with white rings around their necks) and have long tail feathers. When they take off into the sun the only thing you have to go off of is the tail feathers. It just takes lots of practice to figure it out. On this past trip I can think of two occasions where I had a bird take off into the sun and I didn't shoot, only to have someone with a different angle later tell me it was a rooster. This is a reason that good hunters will call every bird that flushes, but that gets tiresome in SD when so many birds take off.