(Editor's Note: This is the eighth and final installment in a journal as Richard Simms and partner Ed McCoy traveled on a hunting road trip to South Dakota. Click here for Entry Seven or here to see a list of all installments.)
In South Dakota's October pheasant season, legal shooting time doesn't begin until high noon—just like it used to be for Tennessee's dove season (and still is on opening day). There is no real biology behind the law. Some folks in South Dakota say it is that way so the numerous nonresident pheasant hunters can party (and spend money) late into the night and then sleep late before they head out hunting again. But one South Dakota biologist told me, "There is no real reason I know of. That's just the way it's always been."
The point being, on this, our final day of hunting on this South Dakota road trip, we were able to sleep in, enjoy a leisurely breakfast and the incredible view afforded at the Buryanek Bay Bunkhouse overlooking Lake Francis Case on the Missouri River.
"Standing outside our lodge, with very little imagination, you could easily picture Lewis and Clark paddling upstream," McCoy said. "I will be forever indebted to Bob Bestenlehner for providing a pheasant hunting experience that only the 'rich and famous' are accustomed to."
At high noon, we were in the field for the second day's hunting.
Day Two of pheasant hunting was pretty much a repeat of Day One: me and my retriever, Britney, blocking at one end of the field while Ed was in the field with other hunters driving pheasants our way—in some cases having to bust through some serious briars and brambles to do it.
"It was a great lack of foresight on my part to have not learned better how to handle Britney so I could have done more blocking while you did more driving," Ed said. But he added with a smile that, "Since I am older but still in much better shape than you, that was OK. I have to take care of my meal ticket."
The difference between the Day One and the Day Two hunt came on what was likely the last drive of day. Our group lacked relatively few birds to finish out our limit for the day (three pheasants per shooter, a total of 48). As the drivers closed on us blockers, I noticed a pickup truck a quarter-mile down the road, just sitting. Bestenlehner came around the corner of the milo field and said, "Richard, see that truck down there? I'm pretty sure that's the game warden watching us."
That made Bestenlehner nervous, not because he is a lawbreaker or that anyone in the group was a lawbreaker. But the fact is, in the "heat of battle," during the final flurry of potential action at the end of a pheasant drive—it can be exceedingly difficult to keep an exact count of how many birds hit the ground.
Bestenlehner, who knew exactly how many birds we already had in hand, struck out across the field and passed the word in a very commanding tone, "No more than four more birds. When four birds hit the ground, everybody unloads their gun."
When the drivers closed on the final 40 yards of thick milo and I released Britney into the field, it was mere seconds before four rooster pheasants flushed and were shot down almost immediately. Cries went up across the field, "No more! We're done!"
Of course, a few straggler pheasants flushed, and everybody watched as they flew off into the distance. As hunters exited the field, as expected, the pickup truck fired up and the game warden came for a visit.
This was actually the second time I'd been checked on this trip. Two game wardens checked me Oct. 19 as I scouted for ducks and pheasants. All I had in the truck at the time were two giant Canada geese killed that morning.
Now, I used to be a game warden many years ago. There is not a law-breaking bone in my body. But it doesn't matter who you are, where you've been or what you do—when a man with a badge approaches, we all have to admit to getting a little nervous. Especially, as it was in this case, you are in a different state that might have some law or rule in the book that you have managed to overlook. But I had no problems. The two men scanned my licenses, looked at my geese, did a cursory inspection of my pickup bed and bade me a pleasant "good day."
The game warden who checked out our pheasant group was Jeff Martin. Everybody held their breath just a little bit as he checked licenses and counted our birds in the back of a pickup truck. As it turned out, we were well under our limit—Bestenlehner figured it's always wise to be conservative and undershoot rather than overshoot.
"It's not unusual for a large group to end up with one or two birds over a limit. We have the discretion to make the calls ourselves," said Martin, indicating that leniency is possible—although unable to say it outright because every situation is different.
He described opening week of pheasant season in South Dakota as "controlled chaos ... you may drive most of the day and not find anybody. Then, suddenly, the last hour you need to be everywhere at once."
He said their most common violation is hunters trespassing or shooting too close to houses and livestock.
"There are not as many pheasants this year, but even in a down year, we're still the best in the nation," Martin said proudly.
"The pheasant hunts were incredible, but the camaraderie was even better," he said. "We had guys from all over the country participating. Everyone was very welcoming. We hunted together, we ate together, we drank together, and we just plain had fun together."
The next morning, a Saturday, Ed and I were on the road with the truck pointed toward Chattanooga before sunrise. We both were expected at work Monday and had 1,200 miles in front of us. We pulled into Ed's East Brainerd driveway at 2 a.m., precisely 20 hours later. If we were commercial truck drivers, we would have been breaking the law. But when it is time to be home, it is time be home.
What is on tap for next October?
I have already made reservations at a South Dakota lodge.
"These past October adventures to South Dakota have been experiences in my life that I'll always cherish," Ed said. "By the way, we [Richard and I] are considering buying the Long Lake Bar & Grill and bringing Southern barbecue pulled pork to the Great North—have you ever heard of destiny?" (Check out the picture. Remember, his name is "McCoy.")
"On second thought," added Ed, "I just checked the weather, and the high in Long Lake is 17 degrees today. Nope, I'm not into ice fishing yet."
Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports.
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