Pheasant Hunting photo

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of expending a truly inordinate number of Federal’s new Prairie Storm FS Steel shotgun shells during a pheasant hunt at Dakota Hunting Farms in Hecla, South Dakota. The hunt was jointly sponsored by Federal Premium Ammunition, Pheasants Forever and Benelli.

I discovered many new things on this hunt, but these three stand out: the Prairie Storm FS steel loads work very, very well on pheasants and will be an absolute boon to those of us who hunt steel-shot areas, the new 28-gauge Benelli Legacy is sweeter than my grandmother’s cinnamon rolls, and when your guide tells you that the dog who just flushed and then retrieved the pheasant you shot isn’t a lab, but rather a lab/Dalmatian mix, don’t let your jaw hit the ground, ’cause there’s stickers down there.

That’s right, many of the dogs at this first-class hunting operation aren’t registered high-dollar dogs from big kennels, but rescue dogs; cast-off, abandoned, forsaken, unwanted, a motley crew of shorthairs, wirehairs, labs, weimaraners, weimie/wirehair crosses, shorthair/wirehair crosses and probably a few others I didn’t notice or couldn’t recognize. Not a high-born blueblood among them, just a scruffy, convivial lot of good-natured canine Everydawgs. And what a joy they were to watch spreading out across the fields like the Dirty Dozen, finding, pointing and/or flushing bird after bird and then methodically picking up the ones that fell before the guns.

According to guide and lodge manager Gabrielle Meyer, the lodge’s dog string includes a number of dogs rescued from area shelters or left abandoned at vet offices when their owners couldn’t or wouldn’t pay the vet bill. In fact, “Molly” the lab quartering in front of us wasn’t a lab at all, but the aforementioned lab/Dalmation mix, and Molly worked the field as well as any flusher I’ve ever hunted behind. In fact, all these dogs did was hunt, and hunt well. It was a hoot to watch them, and it’s refreshing to see someone – especially a hunting lodge that could easily afford the most expensive dogs out there – give these dogs a second chance to do what they love to do.
“In all my gun-dog life, the finest dog who ever took me hunting was a three-quarter English pointer, one-quarter German shorthaired pointer named George. He only had one ear; as a pup his daddy had bit the other one off. This was a road-hunting dog, working out the back of a pick-up breaking at the sound of the safety. He hunted for a man named Gyp who shot a Western Auto shotgun with a sawed-of barrel. The front sight consisted of a penny-pencil red eraser held on top the barrel with electrical tape. Now, that’s not fancy, and it sure ‘aint classic, but this dog and this man put meat on the table.”_

That’s Bill Tarrant, from his book “How to Hunt Birds With Gun Dogs.” I think Tarrant would have gotten a helluva kick hunting with the second-chance dogs of Dakota Hunting Farms. I know I did.