By Kent Danjanovich
South Dakota has always been known for being “The place to go” if you are after pheasants. Over the past 20 years, the statewide harvest has been over 900,000 birds per year. The state has gone to great lengths to make sure they do everything possible to preserve this great sport and along the way, many great operations have been born that help to keep the great tradition going strong today.
One of those operations that we have been fortunate enough to associate with over the past 10-years is Bad River Bucks & Birds in Draper, South Dakota. Their lodge is based on the 113-year-old Hermann Ranch that 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 all aspects at Bad River.
Because of our great association with them, we decided to include Bad River in our Pro Membership Sweepstakes drawing on an annual basis and 2017 was no exception. Mike McNett of DoubleTap Ammunition was the lucky winner and after explaining the details of the trip to him, he got a wide smile on his face and said, “It sounds like a great place to take my two oldest boys along to get them introduced to upland bird hunting in the best way possible”!
So, over the next couple of months, plans were made for Mike, Jackson and James to join me for a three-day hunt to take place the first week of December. We would be joined by a group of 12 buddies of mine from different parts of the country that are associated with the Manheim Auto Auctions. Many of them have been part of our annual trip for a number of years and when they found out that Mike and his boys would be joining us, I could tell that they could sense that it was going to be a special trip this year as well.
Now for those of you that have not hunted pheasants in South Dakota, well let’s just say it’s not like hunting your local hunt club back home. These birds are wild, even if some of them have been released in the spring to help supplement the population. And by the time you hit December, these birds have been chased and hounded for nearly three months, so the term ‘wild’ comes into play even more so. On top of that, add in the fridged South Dakota prairie winds and knocking down a passing ringneck going ‘Mach1” can be quite a challenge.
The first day of the hunt found me and my Manheim buddies taking to the field without Mike and his boys. They were finishing up a successful cow elk hunt in Utah, were Jackson had been able to take his first big game animal. We were greeted by clear skies and temps in the mid-40’s, not bad for early December in South Dakota (our last trip found us sloshing through a foot of snow and sub-zero temperatures). After three successful morning pushes, our group posed for some photos with fifteen colorful roosters. It was then back to the lodge for some lunch and a little relaxing before heading back out for a couple more hours downing roosters before hitting one of Brett’s favorite sharptail and prairie chicken fence line crossings. We did manage to down a few more pheasants, but the rest of the birds didn’t cooperate too well, making their appearance just a little after legal hours as we were loading back into the bus.
That night, Mike and his boys joined us at the dinner table and our plans for the next morning were made. Juicy steaks cooked to order awaited us and afterwards, a little pool and a rousing card game entertained us before heading to our rooms for a good night’s sleep.
The smell of bacon and eggs greeted us the next morning and after a good helping, we made our way back to our rooms to grab our gear and then met in the open area between the lodge and bunkhouse for a quick safety tutorial. Brett and his staff are very good at informing all of their guests with the information they need to make it through their stay safely and successfully. Mike and Jackson would be packing guns on this day, with 11-year-old James following close behind, acquiring the knowledge that would allow him to join in next year when he reached the legal hunting age of 12 in South Dakota.
On most years during our visit, we find ourselves trudging through at least a few inches of snow during our hunt and because of this, a lot of our pushes find us working the shelter belts scattered throughout the area available on the ranch. But on this year, with no snow, we would be hitting the sloughs and cattails a little more to find the birds. When we were on our way to each location, Brett would diagram a plan of attack on his grease board, with half of us blocking around the edges and the rest of the group pushing the cover with the dogs. Every push resulted in downed birds and by the end of the day, another pile of birds were the results for the bird cleaners back at the lodge. And yes, 13-year-old Jackson was able to get in on the action, bringing down a couple of beautiful birds on the day. And I couldn’t help but notice the big smile on a proud papa!
Our last day found us hitting more of Brett’s favorite spots that he had saved for us. After a good morning hunt, as we were loading into the bus, he leaned over to me and said, “We are going to hit it big this afternoon” and boy was he right!
We crested the top of a hill overlooking a good-sized slough, with a fence line down its right side. Blockers were dropped off all around the cattails and then five of us, along with our three guides and dogs, began our push from its eastern side. Almost immediately, birds started to flush. Those that got away from the pushers weren’t quite so lucky when passing by the blockers. By the time we made it halfway through the slough, over a dozen birds were down.
Brett gave the sign to the pushers to stop for a minute to regroup before finishing out the second half of the slough. He also motioned for the blockers positioned around the edges to start closing in as we pushed the cover to a neck in the corner. All of the sudden, birds started to flush almost non-stop. Many were hens, but plenty of them were cackling roosters, exploding out of the cattails. I downed a couple that came out both in front and behind me and then a big boy exploded that looked to be headed for Mike and his boys. I lowered my gun and watched with a big smile on my face as the bird took a direct line at Jackson and when he got in range, BAM – the big, beautiful South Dakota rooster fell out of the sky and the hoots and hollers commenced. I just sat back and thought to myself, “Now that’s what hunting is all about – a dad, his boys, in the field – it just doesn’t get any better than that”!
Well, there you have it. Another great Sportsman’s News adventure brought to you by the ever-growing Pro Membership Sweepstakes. This annual Bad River Bucks & Birds hunt is just part of the over $300,000 worth of hunts, fishing trips, guns and gear packages that are given away each year to lucky winners from all around the country. If you aren’t a member, what are you waiting for? And if you want to experience a great upland bird hunt in the heart of pheasant country, give Brett Waibel and his staff a call at Bad River Bucks & Birds (605-669-3440). They have a lot to offer and I am sure Brett can set you up with just the hunt you are looking for.