Industrial-Strength Pheasant Hunting

Among bird hunting aficionados, the notion of a hunting preserve is often viewed with a jaundiced eye. Part of that disdain is due to some smaller operations that simply throw out birds onto a piece of ground that resembles a pool table with a paltry few obligatory scraggly pieces of brush. When the operator hears the gunfire subside, he hops into his truck and rolls out to launch a few more targets. Modern preserves like the one I shot earlier this week are light-years different.

Dakota Hunting Farms of Hecla, SD, releases birds raised in pens to augment the wild bird population. The habitat of this 6,000-acre farm is quintessential pheasant haunt—knee-high weeds, thick and moist, that snag your boots with every step. The birds are raised with minimal human contact, so they behave more like wild birds.

This is industrial-strength pheasant hunting. In order to properly hunt this ground you need gunners and dogs—lots of both. We had eight guns and as many as a dozen dogs on the ground, and we still had birds escape. The dog handler allowed me and another writer to work our dogs and told me to include my Border collie, Spur. “You can’t have too much dog power out here,” he said to me. I’m not sure that Spur put up any birds, but she enjoyed it. Lily, my English setter, got exactly what she needed—literally dozens of birds shot over her, along with a half dozen rock-solid points and some trailing of wounded birds.

The full story of this hunt will be up on this website soon, including my impressions of the less-than-5-pound, 28-gauge autoloader I used. Here’s a tease: The legend of South Dakota pheasant hunting remains very much alive, and anyone who thinks a 28 gauge isn’t enough gun for roosters will be in for a surprise.

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