For reasons which you’ll soon discover, I am not going to relinquish the name of the farmer or the whereabouts of his farm in this story. If you know him or can find his place, that’s fine. He doesn’t promote hunting of any kind but will take the occasional pheasant hunter…if you should be so lucky.
But I will tell you what “Bill” (let’s call him that) does do. He’ll put you in the birds even in the worst years. Much like this year in fact. Am I correct that I heard pheasants took a pounding back during the spring hatch due to rain and cold? Think so. Lucky for us, Bill only takes about four groups a year, thus his birds are not over-hunted.
His accommodations are nothing short of stellar—a regular Man Palace, I’m here to tell you! Complete with a big-screen TV hooked up to satellite, recliners, and soft leather couches, a refrigerator full of beer and more recreation within a five-minute drive than you could shake a stick at; take that however you want. This unlikely correspondent just happened to show up in the right spot at the right time back in 2005. Or was it 2007?
Disregarding the exact date, we’d found ourselves birdless and weary and having damn-near suffocated in the tall, dusty grass near Martin, South Dakota, so we set out for greener pastures. We called a former outfit who was booked and not able to accommodate five hunters for a one-day hunt, but said he “knows a guy.” Well, that guy turned out to be Bill. Nobody likes to walk into a situation blind, but lo and behold, it was quite the antithesis of the drought (rain, birds, recreation, what have you) Martin was experiencing. Despite the blustery day—the mercury hovering just above zero, the wind relentless—we had our limit within two hours. And if that weren’t enough to permeate a few grins among our group, Bill had a crockpot full of chili waiting on us in the Man Palace along with big, juicy burgers.
This year, or just a few days ago, a group of 11, mostly originating in Alabama, hauled dogs, gear and guns to Bill’s farm just outside of Can’t-Tell-You-The-Town, South Dakota (you might think, “What a jerk, not promoting Bill’s outfit and all.” But, again, he doesn’t even have a website and gets all the hunters he wants). Five of us pulled up to the Man Palace around mid-afternoon to find another huge pot of chili underway. After unloading our gear and assembling our guns, we walked out to the front yard to shoot skeet and take in the landscape.
For those of you who have never set foot in the Midwest in the fall, let me tell you, it is a place worth visiting. Cornfields abound for as far as the eye can see. Rolling hills of milo and the dark green hue of winter wheat accentuate the backdrop of a baby blue sky.
Pheasants cackle in the surrounding fields and flock after flock of sandhill cranes (deemed by some “Ribeye in the Sky”) migrate lazily overhead. Does bigger than any buck we see in the South peruse the abundant food sources. A few in our group—young, restless, and having never cut a feather on a big ol’ rooster—jumped in the truck to try their luck in the nearby ditches. Road hunting for pheasants, somewhat surprisingly, is legal in South Dakota.
The next three days flew by as if they never actually existed. We quickly reached our limit of 33 birds—three per hunter—in about two hours each day. If you know the term “perma-grin,” they were very prevalent among the men of our group.
And in the evenings, after a good day’s hunt, we mostly sat around taking advantage of the many pleasantries the Man Palace had to offer, such as the aforementioned pool table and TV (college football). Bill cooked steaks one night and prime rib the next, never failing to fill the stomach of the hungriest man. It was with some sadness that another year passed so quickly on the South Dakota prairies. The memories we possess and the times we look forward to…
Images courtesy Josh Wolfe