The Birth of a Pheasant Hunter in Hecla, South Dakota

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A deer hunter discovers the magic of the uplands

By Bob St. Pierre

"Jake, put that video camera down and grab a shotgun!”

I was directing Pheasants Forever’s newest employee, Jake Schiller, last December. He had joined PF just four months prior as the organization’s first-ever video production specialist. In that time, he’d been producing video stories bringing our habitat mission and hunting heritage to life.
  
While Jake is an avid lifelong hunter, his focus has been on big whitetail bucks. In fact, prior to coming to work for the organization, Jake was a videographer for the Trained Assassins hunting show airing on Sportsman Channel.

But he had yet to squeeze the trigger on a rooster.
 
So it was through the months of September, October, November and into December 2017 that Jake had followed countless members and co-workers over hill and dale with a camera on his shoulder, but never a shotgun.
In response to my demand, a smile started on Jake’s face and rippled across his body as he squeaked, “You sure?”
  
Without waiting for me to confirm the original instructions, Jake put the camera back in the truck and uncased the Browning A5 and started following a birdy golden retriever named Bentley.
  

DAKOTA HUNTING FARMS

Jake and I were in South Dakota as part of Pheasants Forever’s first-ever Corporate Partners Hunt and Roundtable. The gathering was intended to thank the organization’s sponsors for their contributions to our mission, while also taking the opportunity to talk about our new efforts related to the Farm Bill, precision agriculture, hunter recruitment, Quail Forever growth, and National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic (next Fest is on for February 22-24, 2019, at the Schaumburg Convention Center in Schaumburg, Illinois).
 
The event was being hosted by long-time Pheasants Forever member and donor Bill Mitchell, owner of Hecla Dakota Hunting Farms. Mitchell had grown up in Hecla chasing roosters, waterfowl and whitetails before jumping on a train at 18 years of age, bound for California
.  
After a successful career in the concrete business that affords him a house overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Mitchell returns to Hecla each spring to work on his property’s habitat and again each autumn for his pheasant business and friendships.

“I believe in the Pheasants Forever mission, and I’ve become good friends with many of the organization’s employees,” explained Mitchell. “I’m proud to support the organization’s habitat efforts at the local chapter level at banquets, by being an exhibitor at National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic each year and by hosting the national organization’s special events at this lodge. These are some of the ways I can give back to the habitat and traditions that have given me so much during my life.”
 
Bill’s vision for Hecla Dakota Hunting Farms is brought to life by Gabrielle Pioske, Marissa Cutler and Shelley Ruenz.This trio puts their heart and soul into the visitor experience. With smiles as broad as the South Dakota horizon, they make every visitor feel like they’ve returned home after a long sojourn on the road. Each evening after a day in the field, hunters are treated to a delicious home-cooked meal featuring local pheasant, beef and pork preparations that will leave a lasting memory until next year’s return.
  

BACK TO JAKE

Bentley the golden retriever led Jake down a shelterbelt bordered by a CRP field full of bluestem grass. It didn’t take long before the cadence of Bentley’s tail wag reached a speed worthy of a Mercury 4-stroke propeller. Twenty yards in front, a rooster exploded from the grass with an annoyed cackle and pop of color against the gray sky.

“Rooster!” I hollered in Jake’s direction.

Swinging from left to right, the A5 in Jake’s hands tracked the bird across the sky and with the first shot of his young pheasant hunting career a load of Prairie Storm #5s brought the rooster back to the grass where Bentley made the retrieve.
  
“Wow, that was fun,” Jake reported as he admired his first rooster in hand.

“Nice shot, Jake! You want to see if we can find another?” I asked the question but I already knew the answer.

“Uh, yeah!” Jake didn’t disappoint with his answer, but surprised me with his second thought: “I think I need to get a bird dog.”

“Ha! Yes, that’s a sure sign we’ve created a new bird hunter. What breed of dog are you thinking about?”

“Golden retriever,” Jake answered without hesitation. “Yep, thinking a golden retriever. Although that springer to your left looks awfully birdy.”

A few minutes later Jake bagged his second rooster over a springer spaniel and was thinking his first bird dog might end up being a springer.
 

PLANNING YOUR OWN VISIT

Hecla Dakota Hunting Farms is located 50 miles northeast of Aberdeen, South Dakota. In addition to pheasant hunting, waterfowl and whitetail opportunities are available each autumn, and snow goose hunting in the spring. For more information, visit dakotahuntingfarms.com or call Gabrielle Pioske at 1-800-356-5281.