By Andrew Johnson
After months of waiting, the spectacle of pheasant season is once again upon us here in the Dakotas, albeit under somewhat cloudy skies. Around Labor Day, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department released its annual pheasant brood survey data, and the results were grim. Shortly thereafter, North Dakota followed with its own pheasant report, stating bird numbers had suffered there, as well.
I’m not going to go into details about the whys or hows behind the declining bird population in the Dakotas, because in the pages that follow we have plenty of information on how severe winter weather, drought and habitat loss all combined to negatively impact the pheasant population this year. What I will say, though, is that the pheasant hunting stories and related content included in this issue are all geared toward ensuring you find success in the field this fall.
Along those lines, check out John Pollmann’s article, “Down, but Not Out,” which examines a few ways to thrive in the pheasant fields in lean years when there are fewer pheasants scattered across the landscape.
Now, at an effort at full disclosure and what’s probably a breach of journalistic professionalism, I will tell you that Pollmann and I go way back. He was a year older than me in school as we grew up in Dell Rapids, S.D. We shared the gridiron together, played trombone together, went to church together and, yes, we even hunted together. In fact, many of my first memories afield involve Pollmann in some way, shape or form, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
For example, band was our first class of the day, and back in those days school in Dells didn’t start until 9 a.m. That meant we had time to go duck hunting before school at the ol’ Willow Creek slough, and on more than one occasion we slid in the door right at the bell still wearing our waders and covered in mud, much to the chagrin of our band director.
There were weekend forays, as well, when we took Pollmann’s old four-cylinder Ford Ranger an hour or so west to the James River Valley area, a place we considered the pheasant promised land. The trips were often eventful, to say the least, and for a couple of awkward teenagers hunting on their own, it was the stuff of legend. But perhaps the one thing I learned early on from JP was that there was only one way to go hunting, and that was simply to just get out there, work hard and do it the right way. And I’ll be forever thankful to him for that.
Growing up, we didn’t have a fancy four-wheel drive, our shotguns only worked some of the time, and we often took to the fields in blue jeans and high-tops. We didn’t have any fancy gear at all, but we still went anyway — and that’s what mattered. We didn’t care about bird numbers or anything else. We simply went pheasant hunting.
And I believe that’s why pheasant season is so appealing to many, because even in down years the pheasant hunting experience, as a whole, still has the ability to remind us of what once was good and can be again. Pheasant hunting has a history and tradition in the Dakotas that overshadows all other outdoor pursuits. That’s not to take anything away from deer hunting, waterfowl hunting or fishing. It simply is what it is.
In lean years when pheasant numbers are forecasted to be below average, it’s easy for pheasant hunters to feel sorry for themselves and ask, “What’s next? Where do we go from here?”
The answer is simple: Treat it like any other year. Get out there and hunt. Work hard for your birds. Sweat. Have fun. Enjoy the experience.
Remember, the trick to truly enjoying a pheasant hunt lies not in bagging a limit of birds, but in deriving greater satisfaction from the roosters you do shoot and from spending quality time afield. So, even though bird numbers might be down, go make some new memories and help carry on the tradition. When it’s all said and done, you’ll be glad you did.