When you’re offshore fishing, the horizon seems untouchable, the vast expanse gives an immediate sense of freedom. I didn’t know another place could duplicate that feeling, until seeing the Prairies of South Dakota.
Our annual Cajun Invasion pheasant hunt to Bad River Bucks & Birds in Draper, SD falls in November, a month it is recommended to prepare for weather anywhere from 15 to 60 degrees. One day might have a light snow and calm wind, or bluebird skies and 20 mph winds the next. But these rolling prairies of plowed cornfields and milo are home to some of the most abundant populations of wild Ringneck Pheasant in North America, and that is why hunters from around the country flock to these rolling hills.
It must be noted early; if you are not a dog person... this trip is not for you. Hunters are welcome to bring their own hunting companions; but at Bad River, you will meet no less than a dozen well-behaved dogs, mainly Labradors. They will sit next to you on the couch; the milk truck to the fields, and rest their heads in your lap at dinner in hopes you fall for their look and decide to share. These dogs are family, and an integral part of the operation, running for miles a day to flush fast-flying Roosters. They live for the hunts, and when they retire; often try to sneak on the truck just to be with the rest of the gang.
When you arrive to Bad River Bucks & Birds, a sense of warmth and welcome greets you as you enter a large rustic red farmhouse. As you walk past the rows of hand made gun racks and lockers, and multiple dog beds in the breezeway, you head to your animal-themed room. The main lodge boasts a large common room with vaulted wood ceilings. The walls are adorned with mounts of Mule deer, whitetail, pheasant, duck, prairie chicken, elk, and turkey, all highlighted by large windows and abundant light. The antler chandelier of moose, deer, and elk may be the most captivating piece of all. Guests are welcome to recline (with dogs too of course) in a large leather sectional or enjoy the hearty appetizers and cocktails at the bar.
Typically your first hunt will be around 9 AM the day following arrival, which allows guests to relax and enjoy a hearty home-cooked supper. You will never go hungry here! Three stick to your ribs meals a day, from hot soup and sandwiches after a hunt, to a steak dinner will keep you fueled for miles of walking during the hunt.
Each morning the troops rally in the breezeway, layer up and gather guns while dogs anxiously await the highlight of the day. Guides Kyle, Brett, Jim, and Adam give a daily safety speech on proper gun handling and safe shooting. Whether you are a novice or expert, everyone follows the same rules. No low shooting. Guns face up, and when in doubt, don’t shoot. As mentioned, dogs are family and nobody wants anyone two-legged or four being hurt on account of a bird.
South Dakota state law allows for three male pheasant, known as Roosters, per person per day. It is a large fine if a female (hen) is shot, and as you walk the land with flushers and sometimes pointers ahead of you; your guides will yell “rooster!” or “hen!” which indicates whether or not to shoot. Often these birds will try to run before getting jumped, and it is imperative to make sure they are well up in the sky before firing. A 20 gauge shotgun, whether over-under, side by side, or auto are the preferred gun size, but ultimately your shooting ability denotes what type of firepower you chose.
Hunters are set up as either walkers, flankers, or blockers, essentially working in a shrinking rectangle to push the birds up the field. The guides do a fantastic job positioning hunters and working the dogs, to maximize shooting and let as few birds escape as possible. It must also be mentioned, that pheasant hunting is a non-discriminating and social sport! We had nearly a 50/50 male-female hunter ratio, ranging from ages 14 to early 70s. Much of the fun of upland bird hunting is the social element of being able to talk while hunting and be in large groups.
Watching the dogs zig and zag through the brush is also an amazing sight to observe. Handlers whether hunter or guide keep them just close enough that the birds stay within shooting range, most of the time. There is nothing quite like hearing the crow of a male pheasant as he spastically leaps and flaps frantically out of the grass; and sometimes you get so close you nearly step on them... which can make for a challenge after being startled! Lead the birds more than you think you need to. They are wild, hearty birds; they fly fast and they can keep going if you shoot them too far back on the body. Often it takes more than one shot to drop a bird, and that is ok! There is a learning curve to shooting wild birds, but unlike big game hunting, you will get another chance, and another, and another...so have fun!
|Savanah Hendricks, 14, a resident of South Dakota who was influential in a new law in the state that adds more opportunities for hunting for youth hunters|
Switching gears before dinner, we load up for one more relaxing style hunt. We head to the ridge where cornfield meets open field and each post up in a folding chair to wait for the Prairie Chickens, a type of grouse, to possibly fly over from field to open land. You may get a shot, you may not, but you usually enjoy a beautiful sunset and often some other close encounters with deer, coyotes, and cows.
South Dakota is a wide-open state with wide-open people, who make you feel right at home no matter where you reside. It also boasts exceptional turkey, whitetail, mule deer, duck, geese, bison, antelope, and many more species to chase. Even the nuisance prairie dogs are sport, being shot long range from the tops of their little burrows. It’s easy for someone from Sportsmans Paradise to find a little northern paradise in Draper.
If you would like to join the Bayou Wild gang and hunt pheasants next season, contact Brett & Ashley Waibel at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask about the Cajun Invasion special in 2021. We hope to see you in the big sky country next year!