SD Hunt Report: Birds Galore, Part 1

November 3, 2011 | By | 3 Replies More

Dan with a couple nice SD chickens (Dan Craven photo).

by Dan Craven

[Dan is a Serious bird hunter who’s co-authoring our forthcoming book, Serious Pheasant Hunting, Book 1. He lives in Minnesota and goes to South Dakota every year to hunt birds, not just pheasants. Here’s the rundown of his recent trip. One word for it: awesome.]


4:00 pm – Depart for Bismarck, ND to spend the night and break up the trip. We arrive in Bismarck at about 9:30 p.m. Bismarck puts us roughly 4 hours striking distance from the ranch we hunt that’s north of Hayes, SD – north and west of the capitol city of Pierre.

We plan to meet our longtime friend and South Dakota native, Charlie Moore, at the ranch, which we’ve hunted many times together and Charlie has hunted since the mid-’80s.

This trip has a lot of anticipation for my family – my wife Lynnette, our 10-year old son Connor and me – because this is Lynnette’s first trip without Maggie, our recently departed English Setter. And we’re here with Gus, our newest member of the family. He’s an 11-month-old Small Munsterlander and this is his first big pheasant trip.

We never know what to expect as we head “out west.” Some years the hunting is so good a three-bird limit of pheasants can be had too quickly. This year our dogs need work. Lily, a 5 year-old English Setter, has missed two full seasons due to torn ACL repairs and recuperation. She’s ready to hunt, as is Gus, but we want them to have to work a bit and gain from the experience of hunting wild birds.

I kind of hope it’s not like it was about 6 years ago, when Charlie and I limited out in five steps. Charlie entered one draw as his Lab Jasmine piled in with him. His first step flushed a pair of roosters. Charlie dropped them both. After a double retrieve, Charlie stepped into the draw once again and flushed another 10 birds of which he dropped his third. Two steps – three birds. My three birds took three steps!

Too short of a hunt. We want more work than that for the dogs. Something to think about as we fall asleep.


9:00 a.m. – On the road to the ranch, traveling south out of Bismarck and about an hour into SD.

Birds are everywhere as they come to the road for grit. Bird activity peaks from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. at roadside. We see roughly 100 roosters in that period – fires us up!

10:30 – We arrive at the ranch, a half hour into legal shooting hours. We unpack and get after it following a quick lunch.

The first push is a half-mile-long draw (or shallow waterway) through a harvested milo field. Lynnette is going to walk the draw with Lily as Connor and I drive to the other end of the draw to pick her up. We watch the two of them start up the draw. At about 200 yards we see Lily go on point. Lynnette approaches, flushes a rooster, drops it in one shot.

We drive around the section and hear a couple more shots. As we come to the other end of the draw, we watch Lynnette approach. Lily is on point again. We see Lynnette drop another bird, but it appears to be either a grouse (sharpie) or a prairie chicken.

When she gets to us, she shows us her birds: one rooster, two sharpies and a beautiful prairie chicken. Three species in one walk! She shot four birds in five shots – better shooting than usual. She breaks down crying.

Her determination to do Maggie proud has overcome her. For 10 minutes she sobs over the loss (less than 2 weeks ago) of her dear friend and hunting companion of 10 years. I felt for her, but it was also a proud moment for Connor and me – seeing Lynnette’s focus and taking three species in one 20-minute walk. This single walk alone made the 500-mile trip worthwhile.

Lynette emotional after her first hunt without Maggie (Dan Craven photo).

The next few walks produce a limit of roosters plus a surprising number of grouse – both sharpies and prairie chickens. The “Bone Draw” where we’re hunting has cover in it like we’ve never seen before – too much cover.

We end the day with the nine roosters and nine grouse/chickens. Charlie shot poor (by his typical standards), shooting 6 for 12, three grouse and three roosters. Lynnette went 4 for 5 (one rooster, one prairie chicken and two sharpies) and I shot 8 for 11 (five roosters and three grouse).

The birds were in good cover within recently harvested agricultural fields of winter wheat, milo (grain sorghum) and safflower. Cover was primarily grass waterways within the fields or untillable deeper draws with reeds, kochia, bluestems, Indian grass or other weeds such as wild sunflower, burr-dock and pigweed.

Friday Night

12:35 a.m. – I wake up with cramps in my legs like I’ve never had before. Being in shape for walking doesn’t mean being in shape for walking the draws of the west Missouri River breaks! It could also have something to do with being 49 years old….


A shot of the cover (Dan Craven photo).

A bit more leisurely today, not having to travel. To start the day I go call coyotes for an hour and watch the sun come up. No ‘yotes but I have the pleasure of watching several mule deer and a few whitetails. Roosters are cackling and the grouse are flying. It’s going to be a good day.

We start by hunting a huge draw that’s nearly a quarter mile wide and has two stock dams. Safflower has been left unharvested on the south end of the draw and it’s loaded with birds. In our walk about 100 birds bust wild, we shoot six.

The safflower isn’t planted in dense-enough rows to hold birds. They tend to run. But there are also stands of kochia and this stuff is thick. This holds birds – and deer. We flush several whitetail bucks that scare the crap out of us – busting out of the 6-foot-tall kochia at 10 yards. Pass the clean underwear please!

Kaycee showing some below-eyes wearing (Dan Craven photo).

Gus and Lily both have beautiful points on roosters and I drop two in three shots. Charlie is shooting much better today and drops three roosters in three shots in the big draw. Lynnette is back to her normal self and isn’t shooting as hot as she was yesterday.

Charlie’s dog, Kaycee, is really getting torn up by the cover, which is as thick as I’ve ever seen out this way. She’s getting wearing below her eyes and around her toes. The burrs are bad too. We’re picking/cutting fifty burrs out of our setter and munsterlander every day. Glad we brought the scissors.

Lily, the English Setter, has softer skin and is showing wear and tear too – but the birds are dropping and the dogs are still eager.

– End of part 1 of 2 –


Category: 2011-12 reports, Hunt reports, Pheasants, Prairie Chickens, SBH, SD, Sharptailed Grouse

Comments (3)

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  1. Justin Larson says:

    Great to hear you had a good hunt! Come back and visit again.

  2. Josh Tucker says:

    great article thanks for sharing. much appreciated.

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