Pheasant guiding in South Dakota. The pheasant haven of the US where thousands of upland hunters embark on their annual pheasant hunt every fall. The sound of roosters cackling across the prairies and the skyline filtered with feathers as these beautiful birds move across the plains in search of food and safety. Can it get any better than that?
I’ve been hunting birds for most of my life but only actively guiding for a few. Growing up in Nebraska the hunt usually consisted of more Quail opportunities than Pheasant. However, the opportunities where there and success was had on almost every endeavor. Living and guiding in South Dakota these past few years has opened up a whole new world of opportunities as well a few lessons learned. Just like anything we do on a semi-regular basis we get better at it as well as we discover better gear to be more efficient at it.
With this much traffic and excitement in the air around the pheasant opener, it’s paramount that as a guide and or hunter you are prepared. The last thing your clients want is to be waiting for you due to your lack of preparation. Fortunately, South Dakota has a youth and a resident-only season which both fall weeks before the annual opener. This allows guys like me a chance to get my dogs out and hopefully, some wild pheasants shot over them. A chance to work off the rust of the off-season and for them to key in on what type of conditions we have in store for this season. This is also a great time to do a gear check for the busy days that are soon to follow.
As much as I love a new pair of boots, I don’t recommend you wear them for the first time on opening day. A few weeks before the season is a great time to break those boots in. Even if you just have to wear them around the house for a few days. But breaking in a new pair of boots on the opener, ouch that’s going to hurt and quite possibly make your opening weekend of what should be a great time it bit miserable. Your boots are quite possibly the most overlooked aspect of your hunting gear especially if you only get out a few times a year.
As a guide taking care of my feet is crucial and it’s pretty obvious why. After two tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, I learned the hard way how important it was to take care of my feet. With the extremely dry conditions and the countless miles put on my boots each day, upon returning home my feet looked like something out of a sci-fi movie for several months and I’m not about to go down that road again.
As I write this on November 14th, 2019, I have put 84 miles on my boots since October 13th, 2019. I have no idea if that’s a lot compared to other guides or not, but I do know that it’s a lot of walking in all types of conditions. This year I made the switch to Irish Setter Boots (Wing Shooter series) and have been nothing but pleased with these. Over the years I have realized that I don’t need an insulated Upland boot, regardless of conditions my feet will sweat. The Wing Shooter is waterproof and I prefer the 9” style as there is a lot of wetlands in South Dakota and you can get caught in a swampy spot that you will need to cross and all the extra boot height you can get will come in handy. I also carry an extra pair of wool socks to switch out during the day if need be.
Take good care of your boots by brushing them off each day, protecting the leather and checking your laces and these boots will last you for years to come. Happy feet make for a much more enjoyable day afield.
Boots are not the only thing you need to be checking before pheasant opener. Ensure the dog collars, all of them, are in good working order and properly labeled and fully charged. If you use chaps like me check them for rips, cracks and make sure the zippers are good to go. My chaps are Filson Tin Cloth Chaps. These come with an oil finish to protect against water. They also come with extra oil for maintenance each year. When dealing with leather products take the best care possible with them during the off-season and they will most likely outlast anything else you have ever bought.
When guiding my shotgun stay’s in the truck so the most used tool besides my bird dogs would probably be my bird vest. I wear a Cabela’s Pro Strap Vest which has a big enough back for several pheasants and easy-access pockets for shotgun shells. These strap type style vests don’t hinder your shoulder movement and make it easy for layering. Try your vest on early to ensure it still fits comfy and all parts are functioning properly. When purchasing a new vest or game coat always get it a little big to allow for layering. Gloves that you can shoot with are extremely important not only for comfort but for safety. I see it too many times where a hunter can’t get a shot off because their gloves were too bulky and vice versa a hunter got a shot off because their gloves were too bulky and couldn’t feel the trigger or safety switch. A good pair of shooting gloves will only set you back $20 but could save yours or someone else’s life.
Another extremely important accessory for us guides is our protective eyewear. Not only do I wear some, but all my hunters are required to as well. Wiley X makes a great pair of shooting glasses and optics that are not only ANSI rated but affordable. I was first introduced to these glasses while in the Military as Wiley X is what was issued for combat. They must be pretty darn good I figured, and I was right.
Whether you’re a DIY or Guided hunter being prepared will always make for a much more successful hunt and day afield. Being prepared also means knowing the capabilities of your shotgun and being educated on hunter safety and all-encompassing aspects. As a guide, I have seen it all, from hunters that can’t hit the broadside of a barn to hunters that make Billy the Kid look like a rookie. It’s our job to help you all become the best shot you can be. Even though it may be a quick lesson there are usually some simple tips to make you a better shot. Listen to your guide they do this every day.
Pheasant season is a big deal here in South Dakota. As soon as traveling hunters get off, the plane they are greeted at the airport with an entourage of orange and a plethora of information to make their stay that much more enjoyable. Many of the hunters will stop at some of the big stores such as Cabela’s in Mitchel, SD to stock up on shotgun shells, seasonal clothes, boots, and memorabilia. Pheasant season alone brings in hundreds of millions of dollars to South Dakota’s economy.
I have hunted all around the Midwest and I always tell people that ask me “Is the hunting in South Dakota as good as it once was?” My response, “A bad year for birds in South Dakota is better than a great year anywhere else in the US”. Mother Nature sure can toss you a curve ball causing our bird count to be as volatile as the stock market but rest assured, we have pheasants and we have a lot of them.
Photo Credit: Tammy Bashore