By Kent Danjanovich
Pheasant hunting and South Dakota are synonymous and the economic impact pheasants have on the State are immense. With over 150,000 residents and visitors hitting the fields each year, hundreds of millions of dollars flow into the many areas of the state, as hunters fulfill their dreams as they watch their prized pointers work cover and then suddenly “freeze” before the riveting flush of one of the most beautiful birds on earth takes place.
The ring-necked pheasant is the State Bird of South Dakota, one of only three US state birds that is not a species native to the United States. The pheasant came to South Dakota in 1908 when a group of farmers purchased a pair of birds from an Oregon farm and released them into a field near Redfield.
The hearty pheasant not only survived, but thrived on the prairie, prompting the State to purchase and release 48 additional pairs of birds. In 1919, the pheasant population was high enough for the State to hold a one-day pheasant hunting season.
Over a century later, the combination of habitat, wildlife management and fortunate weather patterns have made South Dakota a pheasant haven and a world-class hunting destination.
With 100’s of thousands of acres available to hunt throughout the state and bird numbers approaching record highs, South Dakota is the place to be if you want to down a limit or two of colorful roosters. Brood reports for 2015 showed a 42% increase in the statewide pheasant-per-mile index and that is after reporting nearly 1.2 million birds harvested in 2014.
As in any sport, choices abound and pheasant hunting is no exception. Do-it-yourselfers hit the field on a regular basis and in many cases, seem to do just fine. Others, of course, find that it is much easier to book a trip with an outfitter, complete with lodging and meals, along with plenty of acres to hunt and experienced guides and dogs to get you on the birds.
Now just because a farmer decides that he thinks he can make the transition to the hunting side of things doesn’t necessarily mean automatic success. It takes a lot of planning and the right situation to make for a smooth transition and in many cases, it just doesn’t work. The farming operation needs to work to accommodate the hunting side of things and steps then have to be taken to protect the birds in the chilly winter months on the prairies of South Dakota. Areas need to be set aside for brooding in the spring months as well and then in the case of operations that want to have preserve status (meaning that they can extend their season from September 1st through March 31st) they must then treat those acres even differently and also must supplement the bird population each year as well. Yes, there is a lot more than meets the eye that must go into the planning of a good operation.
Well, one such operation that fits the bill in all areas listed above is Bad River Bucks & Birds, situated in Draper, South Dakota, about 45 miles SW of the Pierre, the State Capitol. The 110-year-old Hermann Ranch is actively involved in cattle and crops, as well as in the hunting side of things, with not only superb pheasant hunting opportunities, but both whitetail and mule deer, turkeys, sharp tail grouse, prairie chickens, prairie dogs and even some waterfowl and fishing opportunities as well. Yes, they are what you would call “Well Rounded” and Brett Waibel and his staff do a great job in every way.
When an operation is so diverse, it is hard to not talk about everything that they have to offer. But in this article, we are going to focus on the pheasant hunting side of things. The Sportsman’s News Crew has been visiting Bad River almost yearly now since 2006 as one of our exclusive, Platinum Approved Outfitters and each time we have the chance to visit them, we know that we are in for a special experience and our visit the first week of December of 2015 was no exception.
During the past 10 years, we have had the chance of meeting many great people during our stays and have made some lifelong friends in the process. In fact, so much so, that the last two years have found about 20 of us from around the country, meeting up at the lodge to again share stories and partake of the great hunting opportunities that Bad River has to offer.
Our typical trip finds us arriving late afternoon at the ranch. After settling into our rooms, we soon start to work our way to the upper level of the main lodge for appetizers and an open bar. Some soon rack up the balls for a quick game of pool, others shuffle the cards for a “friendly” game of poker, while others relax on the couch while checking the channels on the big screen TV. The dinner bell then rings around 7pm and the first of many great meals awaits in the dining area.
The next morning finds breakfast served at 8am and then it’s back to your rooms to grab your gear and head to the awaiting bus to transport the group to the first hunting location. Now in South Dakota, the general hunt doesn’t open until 10am daily. But this is not a problem at Bad River Bucks & Birds, since they have preserve status on over 2000 acres of their property, allowing hunters to start their day at 9am. At this time of the morning, Brett usually has us unloading at both ends of a tree-lined shelter belt, with a handful of hunters, guides and dogs pushing the cover, while the rest of the group lines the sides of the route to hopefully be in position to down any birds that flush to the sides and or at the end of the push.
Our first push of the day produced 15 birds, with an estimated 300 to 400 flushed from the tree line. Yes, I said 300 to 400 birds! Now of course many of them flushed out of range and a few are “missed” as well, but what a way to start the day as Brett’s pointing labs could be seen, bounding after birds in every direction. One little note about these birds will help those that have not had the experience before to understand just a little bit more: While pheasants are able to fly fast for short distances, they prefer to run. If startled however, they will burst to the sky in a flush, with flight speeds of 27 to 38 mph when cruising and when you ad in the usual South Dakota breezes, well let’s just say you had better get out in front of them or you will have no chance of bringing one down!
After our first push, it was then off to a large, dried slough. A wide line of hunters, guides and dogs spread themselves out at the far end as others started to position themselves around the slough and at its end. It didn’t take long for birds to start flushing out ahead of the pushers and shots started to ring out all around the marsh. As the pushers closed the gap on the blockers, birds again started to explode into the air and feathers started to fly. Another 20 birds had fallen to our group, nearly half of our limit for day one (daily limits of three birds, with an added bonus bird from the preserve for a four bird daily bag, per person).
After one more push on the way back to the lodge, we soon found ourselves unloading from the bus, dropping our guns and hunting jackets off in the prep area and then heading over to the main lodge for lunch. Hot soup, sandwiches and salads were served buffet style, along with a tasty dessert to rejuvenate us for our afternoon hunt. By 1:30pm, we were headed back to the bus and off to our next location.
For the next three days, this scenario played out over and over. Different tree lines and fields with varied results, but all contributing to a ton of birds down and smiles and hi-fives seen throughout our stay.
Yes, pheasant hunting is one of my passions and Bad River Bucks & Birds definitely is one of my favorite destinations. Brett Waibel and his staff do a wonderful job and I look forward to visiting them whenever I get the opportunity. In fact, they are now part of our Pro Membership Sweepstakes at Sportsman’s News and we will be giving away a trip for two in the next few months to join me in the fall of 2017. And as I mentioned earlier, they are not just a pheasant hunting operation. They also have exceptional deer hunting opportunities, as well as spring turkey hunting and unbelievable prairie dog hunting as well. Why not give them a call today to talk about all of the opportunities at 605-669-3440 and visit them on our website or at www.badriverhunts.com.