Traditionally one of the biggest weekends in South Dakota is the opening weekend of pheasant season statewide on the third weekend of October each year. People from all across the country come to the state to hunt one of the state's wildlife treasures in the open fields and corn rows spread across the area.
While the eastern side of the state sees most of the action from out-of-state hunters due to the prevalence of cropland, private owners, and guided hunts, the western side has its own birds to hunt as well. Unfortunately due to the drought of this past summer and its intense heat, the state's bird numbers were down anywhere from 80% to 90% on average, meaning less birds would be available to shoot at than in decades past.
I ran into this issue over this past weekend's opening. My grandpa scouted the areas we'd be going to and reported that there weren't a lot of birds around. My uncle and his friend from Idaho were coming down for the weekend as well so all we could hope for was that we'd hit the right fields that had some birds in them and be lucky enough to shoot at them. My brother would also be coming with and suggested some land to hunt on that required walking through sunflower and corn fields. So we set off to see what we could find.
Over the next 4-5 hours, we walked several fields and didn't see many pheasants as most had predicted. We did, however, find grouse to shoot at which are just as much fun to shoot as pheasants and taste similar.
It was nice to be able to hunt with my uncle and his friend, who is also very interested in ice fishing as well so we chatted about that when we weren't walking in the fields. I've hunted with them before, but it was nice to be able to do it again and it's always great to be able to go out with my grandpa, who introduced me to hunting years ago and it's always a highlight of my fall and winter hunts to go out with him.
He taught me all about safety and ethics and how to respect the landowner's fields we hunt in and it's even better when we get some birds on top of it. While it wasn't the most successful opener we've had, I think we did quite well under the circumstances. Hopefully this next spring and summer won't be as hard on the birds and we'll have more pheasants to shoot at next year. Stay safe out in the fields this fall everyone!