Last year, when a group of my college friends and I walked the fields of central South Dakota hunting for pheasants, bird count was down. Not by much, but you felt it — hens flew more frequently than roosters and the cock birds that did fly were wily and fast, lighting off on the wind with quick, successive pumps of the wings.
This year, bird count is up — by 42 percent. Pre-season, the pheasants per mile (PPM) sat at 3.80, up from 2.68 in 2014 and 1.52 in 2013. According to South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, “The statewide PPM index is similar to 2011 when hunters harvested 1.56 million roosters.” You feel that kind of PPM — roosters loiter roadside, fly out from the fields in droves, and the boys match the girls in the sky. The only problem you’re presented with in this PPM is how fast you can reload.
Our three days of hunting culminated at The Yard — a family property in Mobridge, South Dakota, where a year-round freshwater spring , thick brush and lines of unharvested corn create something of a pheasant haven (water, cover and feed). Typically, this is saved for just family, a Thanksgiving event that’s more shootout than hunt. This year, given the number of birds, an early invitation was extended.
Hunting The Yard with this PPM on an unseasonal hot day (15 to 25 degrees warmer than average mid-November temperatures) created one of the more effortless harvests in memory. After placing a group of 10 guns around the property, the dogs went in and the birds went up. Wave after wave of roosters and hens cleared the land, some slipping out between cracks, some dodging the shot, some falling in the harvest. We limited in less than a half hour. It didn’t take walking fields for miles. It didn’t take surviving the harsh cold and severe winds of the north plains. It didn’t try the patience waiting for a rooster to fly. But it did, in every smile and story shared, ensure that next year, this group will be back again.
As is tradition, I took a few pieces of gear to South Dakota for a test. In this year’s selection I focused on a few recently released key accessories — bags, boots, gloves and a knife. These four items are essentials for improving the quality of a hunt, and a small investment goes a long way in the field.
Quality Goods for a Hunt
Harvesting the Upland Bird Population in Style
Filson Dry Bags
Clad in 18-ounce vinyl-coated polyester, these bags are rugged enough for any conditions, and with their roll-top design, they’re sealed off from the damp elements. The backpack is high capacity (there’s also a daypack option, for smaller missions), and the duffel carries plenty of weight. They’re durable, no-frills bags, with more than enough hefty construction to handle a weekend in South Dakota.
Danner Sharptail Boots
Perhaps most important in the field is a good pair of boots. Days typically consist of walking long miles through thick brush on unstable terrain. A waterproof Gore-Tex lining and Danner’s Terra Force platform offer an outsole with excellent traction and a four-layer construction that supports the arches, adds stability and offers ample cushioning. The Sharptail is relatively light for an upland boot (51 ounces), and works a bit of the “sneaker feel” into a rugged frame.
Beretta Thornproof Gloves
The trip turned out a single bitterly cold day, with winds dropping temps down to the 20s. In this situation, you need gloves that are lithe enough to let you load shells, but thick enough to keep your fingers warm. These are both, with the added durability of a brush-resistant outer edge and the added plus of touch-screen fingers (if you’re inclined to IG your harvest).
Gerber 39 Series Micarta Knife
Nothing is more dangerous than a dull knife, and when breasting birds, it’s good to have a sharp blade in hand. The 39 Series Micarta features CPM S30V steel fashioned into a three-inch fine-edge blade and a Micarta handle that offers a sturdy grip even when wet. It sliced, quite easily, the breast meat being prepared for dinner.