Tradition surrounds pheasant opener

Nick Lowrey

The third Saturday in October is an important day in South Dakota. The state becomes a mecca, drawing pilgrims from around the globe to participate in one of the most unique upland hunting experiences in the world. Pheasant season brings tens of thousands of people to the state and generates well over $200 million in economic activity.

Pheasants occupy a special place in the hearts of upland hunters everywhere. Their thunderous explosion from cover into flight, bright colors and great taste combine to attract hunters from all over the world.

Ring necked pheasants originally came to North America from China in 1881 when Judge O.N. Denny brought 100 breeding pairs across the Pacific to Oregon. Since then the birds have spread through the continent to any place with suitable habitat. South Dakota has proven to be an ideal place for the birds.

Pheasant hunting in South Dakota is widely regarded to be the best in the world. There are more square miles with more pheasants in them than anywhere else on the planet.

Hunting these wily birds is to say the least, a challenge. Their legs are built for running and they use them more than their wings. When they finally do take to the skies they burst from cover with the sound of thunder beneath their wings. To this day that rush of wings still gives me a jolt.

For me, pheasant hunting has always meant more than just a rush of adrenaline and the thrill of the chase. In the fall of 1991 I was just six years old and my family lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. On one late October day my brothers and I welcomed our dad home from what we thought was just a normal business trip. Like many fathers he would usually bring us something back from his trip. This time he brought each of us the tail feathers of a pheasant.

This was the first time either myself or my two brothers had ever seen anything to do with pheasants and the first time we’d ever heard of a place called South Dakota. I had grown up hearing my dad tell stories of growing up and learning to hunt from his grandfather but this was my first real taste of hunting. I was hooked from that moment on.

A few months later we moved to Sioux Falls and I spent the rest of my formative years hunting with my dad and brothers. Pheasant hunting still holds a special place in my heart, though I’ve lately become more interested in duck hunting. When pheasant season rolls around I can’t help but get excited. If I don’t spend at least one day wandering around a field chasing ring necks, my year feels incomplete.