If we had more time on the Rooster Road Trip, it would be interesting to pull up a lawn chair in the morning outside the South Dakota motels and count how many different breeds of dogs are loaded up in SUVs – vehicles I noticed descended from every corner of the country to chase South Dakota roosters. Among setters, Brittanys, Labs and GSPs, there were enough beautiful dogs to make any Westminster judge wag their tail.
There is also enough blaze orange darting around the motels and diners to show the reality of how much of South Dakota’s culture is rooted in ringnecks. South Dakota’s cities are like homecoming to a pheasant hunter with the “Hunters Welcome!” signs in the front of nearly every business – a rarity in most places these days. People appreciate that hospitality, too, and show it by spending their hard-earned dollars there, supporting the local economy. According to the South Dakota Department of Fish and Game, it is more than a few dollars. Retail sales for hunting activities was estimated at $196 million in 2006; a $303 million dollar economic impact. Additionally, hunting in the state generated almost $100 million in salaries, wages and business owner’s income, and created 4,500 jobs.
While this was forecasted to be a down year for South Dakota, the state rarely disappoints, and today, the second day of the Rooster Road Trip, was no exception. Hunting outside of Pierre, we met up with Mike Stephenson, Pheasants Forever’s South Dakota Regional Representative; Jim Ristau, a Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist; and Justin and Bob Nagel, Pierre / Fort Pierre Pheasants Forever chapter members.
No time for breakfast today, guys, let’s just get to the field.
Overnight, the weather gods gave us the first snow of the season and calmed the wind, making for perfect scenting conditions. Thirty minutes outside of Pierre, we pulled up to state Game Production Area (that shall remain nameless) and boots weren’t the only thing hitting the ground. The expression of the day was “Dog Power.” Kennel doors flung open and five yellow labs and four German shorthaired pointers hit the ground running.
To say there was a bit of flusher vs. pointer rivalry would be a comical understatement. Anthony and I decided to head out with the Nagels and their Labs, while Andrew headed out with the pointer group.
Being a setter guy, I felt like a quail out of covey with the flushers, but there is a reason why Labrador retrievers are the number one dog breed in America. Loyal, smart and playful, the one thing that too often is forgotten is their off-the-wall hunting ability. The Nagel’s five Labs, all from the same line, worked excellently as we walked a diverse mix of warm and cool seasons, cattails, drawls and a hundred other types of grasses for pheasants to hide.
Walking a grove, we got the only rooster of our walk (we did miss more and see plenty of hens). Flushing between us, the bird peeled off towards Justin, corn and the horizon. I took a shot which was easily 15 yards behind while Justin professionally squeezed off two. Lab #3, “Roscoe,” made a perfect retrieve to hand. As with any gracious pheasant hunting host, Justin congratulated me on my fantastic shot and gifted me the bird.
Winter weather and a slightly injured ankle for Bob kept our hunt to 3 hours and 23 minutes and 5.30 miles according to my Garmin Alpha- the perfect amount of time to be out with the dogs and make it back to the truck bird in hand.
How did Andrew do with the pointers? Better than the Labs? Check the Rooster Road Trip homepage tonight to find out. Hint: his game bag was heavier.
Note: Again, I got grouse fever and couldn’t pull off a 20 yard passing shot on a sharptail. But I don’t want to talk about that…
Low Brass is written by Rehan Nana, Pheasants Forever’s Public Relations Specialist. Email Rehan at RNana@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter at @RehanNanaQF.