|Now, in this picture to the left here, you can see that Freck did have that rooster nailed just perfectly for us. Scott and Dave both walked in on him and I actually got a decent picture of the bird in the air for once! I promised Scott that I would tell you all that he got this bird after Freck and Ginger had done such a fine job. So that's my story and I'm stickin' to it!|
|Neil's place contains some of the best looking pheasant habitat I have ever hunted in. Lots of heavy grass fields, wide shelter belts intermingled with food plots and crops and plenty of water available. And there is so much of it! In two days we didn't get to all of it with 5 guys and four dogs giving it our best shot! Actually, we didn't need to hunt it all as the dog work (and our shooting) got much better as the day progressed. Dave and Scott had never hunted with pointing dogs and they were having a grand time. It had been along time since Mark and I had gotten the dogs into so many birds and it was great to see them really start to get the hang of it. Neil's own dog, Abbie, a six year-old GSP, proved to be an old pro at all of this and made it look easy right from the start, once our dogs stopping herding all the birds off, that is. As shooting time was slipping away we hit one last shelter belt near the ranch house as a couple of us still needed a bird for our limits. (not that we hadn't already had our chances, and over solid points even!...again, I plead the fifth)
The birds were there in droves, but, as sometimes happens, you can almost have too many birds sometimes. As the hunters and dogs moved up, the birds that were moving ahead started spooking and flushing still more birds out until there were pheasants runnng or flying and confused dogs everywhere you looked. Finally, the commotion calmed down and as we came to the end of the line where Neil and Dave were blocking, it seemed that the pheasants had given us the bum's rush and escaped with us having barely fired a shot. Presently, as the dogs worked out the last little patch of head high weeds, several of the beepers started chiming together from a spot the size of my living room. The dogs were hidden by the tall cover as we approached and still another beeper kicked on right in that same little weed patch. There appeared to be an unseen canine traffic jam just a step or two ahead of me when suddenly IT happened. Any of you who has hunted pheasants knows what happed next. Right! Roosters came busting out of that tiny spot, virtually from beneath the dogs, each launching straight up and then veering off in a different direction like copper clad Tomahawk missles in "ripple fire" mode. I didn't shoot as I already had my limit (again...my story and I'm sticking to it..!) The guys guarding the far side of the trees from where I stood battled bravely and several birds where dropped in large puffs of feathers. The final bird of the day was knocked down as it twisted through the tops of some distant oak trees by Mark, who made a spectacular shot, the bird falling nearly 60 steps away in some murderously dense cover near a corner of a feed lot. I am proud to say that Freck quickly found and retrieved his prize as we would have never found this and several other fallen birds on this weekend without decent dogs along. Let me also state my case here for using bigger shot on pheasants, even at the closer ranges we shoot at over pointing dogs. #5 shot will pattern nicely out of most Improved Cylinder barrels and has just enough more "oomph" in my experience, to make a difference over the very popular #6 shot. I will even stick #4's in my modified barrel if it's windy and the birds are jumping up wild. (Oh, and when is it NOT like this ?..) Ya gotta break limb bones on pheasants to get them to fall and stay put, the bigger shot is a big help in that regard.
|Before dinner, we returned to the ranch house and quickly dressed and packaged our birds for freezing and travel home. South Dakota law requires that hunters leave the bird whole, with at least the head or a foot attached after dressing for sex ID during transport. The daily limit is three roosters with six in possession. Neil and his dad do raise over 1000 pheasants each year for release on his place. The roosters are released prior to and during the hunting season and the hens are released in the Spring. We saw large numbers of hens and also found many 2 year-old birds in our bags. As I said before, I believe the biggest reason for the large numbers of birds we saw hunting with Neil is his attention to habitat, which fosters and protects a large number of truly "wild" birds found on the ranch year-round. Neil runs hunts only in the regular South Dakota season, all of which allows him to provide a much higher quaulity hunt than alot of the "Controlled Shooting Area" or preserve operators that run more of a "put and take" type operation over a much longer season on more limited areage.|
|Above is our happy hunter, Scott and his new best friend, Abbie, taking it easy after chasing pheasants all day. Scott says he is now thoroughly hooked on hunting with bird dogs and plans to someday soon have one of his own. (Hint to Cindy; Christmas is coming... I tried to tell Scott that pups make the best anniversary present for one's wife, but he wasn't buyin' it...) If the dog he does eventually get is half the dog Abbie is, he will be lucky indeed! Abbie is probably the most pleasant and gentle dog you could ever meet. She truly does her owners proud serving and family house pet and pheasant finder extraordinaire. Her devotion to Neil and Stephanie's very young daughters was as remarkable as her abilities in the field.|
|I was so pleased with the way this entire weekend worked out. Especially for Scott (who missed his 5th wedding anniversary to come !! ) and Dave, who hadn't hunted together in several years. Neil and Stephanie did everything in their power to take care of us, make us comfortable and get us on the birds. We all also took time out on Sunday to shoot a round on Neil's NRA clays course, which is available to all guests at the ranch for a shooting tune up for those rocket powered ringnecks.|
|And speaking of missing birds, the snapshot above would have been fabulous, had I not muffed it. On the second morning of hunting, Freck had this bird nailed in front of me. Scott was approaching and I grabbed my camera. (I already had my...oh forget it...) I got Scott and Freck all framed up and waited for him to kick the bird out. I am not sure what happed next when the bird flushed (maybe I closed my eyes? just like when I shoot...) but honestly, Scott did get this bird. If you look closely in the lower left hand corner, Freck is racing to the falling bird and clear at the top of photo on the same side, you can clearly see feathers in the air. (Honest, on the original, there are feathers there!)|
|One truly memorable moment (and there are thankfully, no pictures!) occured as Neil drove us back to the ranch on Sunday morning to gather the dogs and go at it again after breadfast. At a county road corner just north of the house, we spotted to roosters diving into the ditch right ahead of us. Now in South Dakota, you can hunt the road ditches legally, so we decided to give these guys a try. I didn't even have my boots or gun along, so I jumped out with Dave in my sneaks and borrowed Neil's gun.|
|He drove Scott up to the next corner and put him in the other end of the ditch, the idea being that Dave and I would drive these two birds to him. Uh-huh...the best laid plans and all that. Well, first off, we had limited firepower. Neil had dug out a handful of shells from under his truck's front seat and doled them out to us. We each had 2 or three shells loaded as we started in on these birds and no more in our pockets. Dave and I had gotten about half-way down the ditch to Scott when two birds flushed practically at Scott's feet and flew right at Dave and I. Well, Dave and I scored a perfect left and right on these two, plunking the pair down right in the road behind us, (didn't we Dave?, uh-huh, yeah....whatever...) What we didn't know then is that there were at least a dozen more roosters hiding in that ditch that didn't appreciate our spectacular display of precision pheasant shooting. At our shots, they began flushing in pairs and singles, some of them flying practically right up Scott's pant leg!|
|Within moments we are all out of ammo, cutting not a feather and the birds are still boiling out of the ditch all around us. But what set us into fits of laughter was the sight of Scott, standing there at his end of the road ditch, drawing and swinging on each departing rooster shouting "Bang!!, Bang!, Bang!" at the top of his lungs! I do wish to state for the recored that our only canine help, Abbie, was not helping at all, but chose, like her master, to just giggle and point at us. She even made Dave and I pick up the two roosters we did manage to get by ourselves while she stayed in the truck and hid under the back seat in disgust. (We're coming back next year, Neil, I promise. But NOT without a video camera! We can all split the $10,000!!) Here are shots of Dave and I doing some belated practicing on Neil's clays range.|
|Better luck next time!|
|How much better does it really need to get anyway? Neil, Abbie, yours truly and Freck.|
Although when I started this website I swore to myself that I would never, ever publish recipes on my bird hunting website. Well this is the one that changed my mind!! I am pleased to pass on this, the first recipe to ever make it on to The Checkcord. It's from Stephanie Weidner, our hostess for this hunt and it seems that folks have been known to travel across several counties for a plate of this number. Heck, Neil talked about her "three-day pheasant" more than he talked about his dog, which says alot. This recipe seems unusual and yet sounds so very good, I am going to whip some up over Christmas and will post my family's response.
This is a recipe that we make every year for our annual game feed. We call it Three-Day Pheasant, although it really doesn?t take that long. (It just seems like it at times?) The reason it is such a great recipe, is the same reason that it takes so long to prepare. We use up a freezer full of pheasants every time that we make it. It makes a big roaster full of food and we have had people buy tickets to the game feed just because they have heard of this dish and wanted to try it. Another plus is that this recipe uses the entire pheasant and not just the breast.
Cut 20 pheasants into 4 portions each. Flour the pieces and cook in a mixture of half shortening and half butter. While you are frying these, use the carcass of one of the smaller or more shot up birds to make a stock.
Fill a stock pan with water. Add 1 pheasant. Add some cut up onions, celery, salt, and pepper, or whatever you like to your stock. Boil a LONG time. I just continue to boil until I need it. Then strain and reserve until later.
Back to the Fryin?:
After you have fried all of the pheasant, Fry up 1.5 lbs. of chopped onion and 1 lb. of chopped celery until softened. Add 4 lbs. of apples (I use granny smith) that have been peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped. Cook until well buttered. Remove pan from heat and stir in enough flour to absorb fat. Gradually stir in 2 pints of apple cider, one pint of cream, and enough stock to make a nice sauce. Put pheasant in a large roaster. Pour sauce over it and cook on lowest setting until ready to serve. We usually cook it several hours in order to really tenderize the meat. We have cooked it even overnight. Just don't burn it! I know it is a lot of work, but this is a great recipe. Happy Eating!!
|I wish to thank Scott and Dave for coming all the way up there to hunt with Freck and I. It was a real thrill to bring such a gung-ho bunch of pheasant hunters together and I did have a ball. I hope you guys did too. Of course, words cannot exress my gratitude to Neil and Stephanie of Dakota Prairie Ringnecks for putting this all together for us. (It was Neil's idea, after all!). Much appreciation goes out to Mark Wilkins as well for bring his dogs up and for his support of all the things we try to do here at The Checkcord.|