In the early 1990’s I moved near Amarillo, Texas to go to Graduate School at West Texas A&M University. I grew up in the Texas Hill Country and South Texas so the West Texas Plains were foreign to me. Upon moving to Canyon, Texas I was even more concerned about where I would go hunting. It did not take me long to figure out that the Panhandle of Texas is rich in wildlife and there were tons of places to get outdoors. One of my favorite hunts, while living there, was the pheasant hunting we did each winter, but I always wanted to go hunting in South Dakota.
Not only are the birds an outstanding hunt, they are also great on the plate.
We had tons of fun walking the fields and bumping up pheasant and getting some shooting in. We spent lots of time around tree rows, small ponds and the CRP edges. That is where we found most of our birds. You would walk out an entire field and right at the end have dozens of pheasant take off. At the time I was not aware but soon found out the birds were running in front of us. At the end of the field they were pushed to the point of taking flight. All the birds flushing made you miss easy shots leaving plenty of pheasant alive for another day of hunting.
My First Time Hunting in South Dakota for Pheasants
It has always been a dream of mine to one day go and hunt pheasant in the Dakotas and this past year that hunt came to a reality. I’d listened to hunters talk about how much they loved hunting in South Dakota. This past spring while I was running an Axis deer hunt I was invited by my good friend, Keith Stroude, to join a group of friends and hunt in South Dakota at the Hidden Hill Lodge.
The second I received the invitation I jumped on it with both feet. I couldn’t wait for the trip! The thought of all those birds was on my mind for weeks before the hunt. I guide hunts for a living and teach lots of kids about the outdoors, but I still do quite a bit of bird hunting myself and the idea of hunting in South Dakota was definitely a bucket list trip.
The History of Pheasants in South Dakota
The history of the awesome birds has been a big part of our United States heritage. “Pheasants have been in the United States for more than 200 years. They were first brought to North America in 1773, but they did not begin to propagate until the early 1800’s. The Old English Blackneck Pheasants were brought in by the governors of New York and New Jersey in 1773. However, they were not strong enough to survive.
The Chinese Ringnecked Pheasant, known for its colorful plumage and outstanding taste, was release in the United State in Oregon in 1881. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s many pheasants were imported from English game bird farms, and released. Today these birds have been introduced into 40 states. South Dakota has even named the Ringneck Pheasant as its state bird. As noted there were releases of wild pheasants from China in the late 1800’s. However, the foundation of most wild bird populations in the U.S. derive from those English game farm importations. Pheasants are raised by hundreds of farms in the United States. They are released by clubs, individuals, and government agencies to be enjoyed for sport and their tasty meat.” Macfarlane Pheasants Inc.
At one time pheasant populations reached 16 million in South Dakota and the hunters in the 40’s took full advantage of the Upland bird hunting as limits even grew to eights birds per hunter per day. After some time the loss of habitat dwindled the numbers down to a few million pheasant in the mid 1980’s. “Signed into law in 1985 by President Ronald Reagan as a part of the federal Farm Bill, the long-term goal of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) was to re-establish cover to help improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and reduce the loss of wildlife habitat”, John Pollman, Pheasants Forever. The modern day populations have since increased to 12 million birds. On top of that, the South Dakota economy is boosted each year by 200 million dollars spent hunting the Ringneck.
The Hunt was a Cast and Blast
Our time hunting in South Dakota was a triple reward as we spent time hunting ducks in the morning, pheasant in the afternoon and fishing for walleye in the evening. The guide and his dogs put on an awesome show for us each day as we hunted over Labradors that were over the top amazing. When you get to go out and hunt with a quality dog it makes the experience that much better. The dogs live for this time of year, and the second they see the shotgun taken from the shelf the change is instant as their excitement level gets you pumped up as well.
You NEED to experience a really good pheasant hunt at least once in your life.
We have some great pheasant numbers in the Texas Panhandle. With all the water, CRP, crops and good management our numbers are on the rise the past few years. You’ll be hooked after you go hunting in South Dakota the first time. It may take you several more trips to get it out of your system. If you get the chance go see my friends at Hidden Hill Lodge they will leave lasting impression on you as the hunt was over the top. The food, the lodge and the people are top notch and the trip will not disappoint.