March 15, 2007 at 9:20 a.m.
My father-in-law and I just returned from such a trip out near Miller, South Dakota, where we joined a dozen other hunters at Dakota Wild Wings Lodge for a day and a half of pheasant hunting on 2,600 acres of preserve land. Ron and I didn't want to jinx this trip, but prior to leaving for the lodge, we were both guilty of visiting their website fairly regularly to contemplate the colorful photos, most of which included piles of roosters and groups of deliriously happy looking hunters. The lodge's lofty claims of "World-class pheasant hunting," and "The finest pheasant hunting ground in North America," did indeed conjure up in my own mind all the ingredients for a hunting trip of a lifetime. Who wouldn't arrive at that conclusion? After all, that is the point of eye-catching, effective advertising.
We arrived at the lodge on Friday at 5:30 p.m. and discovered that we'd beaten the remainder of the guests by a number of hours. That was nice, because it allowed Ron and me a chance to meet the owners and guides and interact with them on a far more personal level. By the time we finished our conversations over grilled hamburgers, we felt more like friends than guests, and it became abundantly clear to me that the managing owners, Doug and Jane Heidinger, were living exactly the life they wished to live. It was also apparent to us that they know exactly how to work and manage their land to promote a large natural pheasant hatch and wild bird retention. Throughout the evening, I found myself gravitating to a corkboard on the wall in the main lodge to look at all the photos hanging there; the hunters decked out in blaze orange vests and caps and iridescent roosters laid out on the ground, sparkling under the bright noonday sunshine.
The following morning, Ron and I were pleased to feel the old Belgian Browning A-5s swing and down numbers of pheasants that noisily burst from the corn and switch grass. The old semi-autos, well oiled and cared for, had spent too much time in the gun cabinet of late and it was high time to run shells through them and dirty their bright bores again. Our group of fourteen hunters shot an astounding sixty-five roosters on Saturday and another forty-five during the few hours afield on Sunday morning. Any time you can honestly claim to shoot 110 roosters during the course of a day and a half of hunting is mighty impressive indeed. Considering the time we spent moving from field to field and a midday lunch break, the actual time spent actively hunting worked out to about eight hours.
I'm not quite old enough to recall what others refer to as "yesteryear" hunting, or the good old days of pheasant hunting, but I can't imagine it was any better than what we experienced last weekend.
I plan to send off a colorful photo of our hunting party to the lodge, all of us looking deliriously happy standing and kneeling behind a mound of roosters at our feet. No doubt, other skeptical hunters will see that picture tacked to the lodge's bragging board and wonder on a Friday evening, after they've finished supper and unpacked their clothing and gear, if their own hunting experience the next day will be as fantastic and memorable as ours. I have little doubt that it will be.