Rooster Report: First Feathers at Fort Pierre

d450c4f9-3b82-4c6c-8130-24333fe5de24 Rooster Road Trip 2016 - Upland Nation, an annual digital showcase of upland hunting on public land habitat & access projects, takes to the field October 24th – 28th and November 14th – 18th. This is the first report from this year’s tour.  
“That may be the wildest rooster you ever shoot!” I told Pheasants Forever’s Andrew Vavra after he picked up his first Fort Pierre National Grasslands rooster, the result of a close flush and a true shot. From our hilltop, our Ford F-150 had morphed into a “toy truck” nearly two miles away.
On our turn back, a covey of prairie chickens - what these grasslands are probably better known for - rose from a ridgetop. Vavra connected again, with the flock of 20 or so riding an ever stronger prairie wind while his bird sailed down a few knolls closer to the horizon. We marked it as best we could and, hopeful but uncertain, headed east. As we started making our descent from “the hills,” the dogs found an extra gear, as if propelled by tails wagging faster and faster. Finally, “Sprig,” my 5-year-old English cocker spaniel, had a bird in her mouth. It was Andrew’s first-ever prairie chicken and Sprig’s first-ever retrieve of this native bird!
We’d arrived in Pierre, South Dakota, a few days in advance to get our boots under us in preparation of Pheasants Forever’s 7th annual Rooster Road Trip, an upland adventure & digital showcase. With not much of a weekend plan other than to test out our equipment, we could have gone in a lot of directions. But the pull of the grasslands was almost magnetic, and that’s where we elected to start this Rooster Road Trip.
Why this expansive shortgrass prairie? While there are pheasants, it is by no means a rooster mecca. And by October, the prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse that thrive here have been pushed hard by upland hunters and dogs for nearly a month, which makes closing in on them tougher by the day. Finally, the enormity of this place can be downright intimidating. At 116,000 acres, where does one start?
All these factors could have pushed us away, but instead they drew us in. The chance for our dogs to tangle with running rangeland roosters who carve out a living miles from any road. The challenge of climbing hill after hill to possibly find a grouse needle in a grassland haystack. And to cover a precious few acres, to kneel down at a perch, wipe the sweat from your brow, look out at nothing but grass and drink it in. Here, at the top of the world.
-Anthony Hauck, Rooster Road Trip 2016
Up Next: The Missouri River Corridor
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Photo credit: Josh Preissner