South Dakota's vast pheasant country and hunters
Story and photos by T. Edward Nickens South Dakota's vast pheasant country is almost too big to contemplate. A small group of hunters has to tackle it one drive at a time: Plot out the likely holding cover, the off-to-the-side escape hatches that need to be blocked, the best piece of land for the standers to hold fast. Walk -¿em up, shoot -¿em down, repeat. Not a bad way to spend a day. Field & Stream Online Editors

Gregg Stall and Chuck Lauritsen stand with Field & Stream Editor-in-Chief Sid Evans

OK, sometimes it is as easy as it looks. Especially when someone else does all the hard work. Landowners Gregg Stall (left) and Chuck Lauritsen (right) spend countless hours working on pheasant habitat. CRP plots, millet fields, tree strips, cattail swaths-“their lands show the love they have for ring-necked pheasants. The payoff for Sid: A trio of roosters.

Chatting with Stall and Lauritsen

After yet another arduous drive through horrific briars and a hell of brambles–not–I chew the fat with landowners Stall (left) and Lauritsen. I just returned from an Alaskan float trip during which I nearly drowned–look for the details in an upcoming F&S–and; I think I deserved this easy day afield.

Farm Land in South Dakota

Home sweet pheasant Mecca. Family farms like these are barely hanging on in the Dakotas. As the family farm goes, so goes many wildlife species. And opportunities to hunt them.

Dogs in back of truck

Flushing labs are indispensable in pheasant country. They triple the amount of cover you cover, and double your chances for finding downed birds. Plus, nothing says “nice shot-¿ like a slimey lick in the face.

Walkng through CRP plots

Plowing through shoulder-high CRP plots is standard-issue pheasant hunting. This dense cover holds bewildering numbers of birds, and our hosts spend a bewildering number of hours working to keep their land this pheasant-friendly. The drill is pretty straightforward: Standers post at the ends of fields, while drivers push the birds through the thick stuff. Pheasant would rather run than fly, and they tend to stack up on the far end of a drive. The last 20 seconds of a 20-minute drive can see some fast and furious gun work.


These look like ring-neck pheasants, but they are not. They are pheasant-poppers not yet fully processed. To finish the job, we have to breast them out, cut the breasts into strips, place a dollop of cream cheese and a jalapeno pepper on each strip, roll it up, skewer a hunk of bacon around it, and grill it till we can’t take the aroma any longer.

Walking through the field

Sid accused me of looking like an Abercrombie & Fitch model, all gussied up in my canvas and 3-day-beard. I took it as a compliment and couldn’t care less if he didn’t mean it as such. I didn’t know Doug was taking this photo, or I’d have sucked my gut in a little more.

Sitting in back of the truck admiring the view

Pretty nice having your own farm-country limo to cart you to the next drive. Take a look at this pheasant habitat-“dense weeds up to the fencelines, millet fields half-harvested, strips of trees to provide windbreaks and nesting cover. You don’t see that on 5,000-acre corporate farms. Long live the sodbusters.

John Evans and Doug Jackson

John Evans and Doug Jackson have been friends and hunting companions for more than 50 years. I don’t feel funny saying it: I felt darn lucky to horn in on what was for all intents and purposes a gathering of friends and family. I could talk about this a little more, but Sid already pounds on me for writing purple prose, so -¿nuff said.


I can’t think of a more obliging gamebird than this crazy fellow. Breeds like a rabbit, jumps like a pintail, and half the time he cackles at you on the rise. Like he thinks he can rattle your cage and throw off the shot. A lot of times, that works. But not for this unlucky rooster.


If you look real close, way back in the back of this field, you’ll see two spots of orange. Those are pheasant hunters. The rest of this picture is just me. Thought you’d want to know.

Group shot

Every hunter has seen a million pictures like this one: A group of guys, a pile of birds, smiles all around. Why do we take these kinds of photographs? And why do we like to look at them? Not because they tell a story of numbers. But because they tell the story of a single moment in time. The story of one day that we’ll never get back–but that we’ll keep forever. I could go on and on, but if I keep on gushing like this, Sid will never invite me to go hunting again. So that’s all you get.