American Hunter - December 2020 - 58

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Photo: Author

fields, fair-weather hunters shelter in place.
This leaves the pheasants to tough, some
would say slightly demented, enthusiasts
like Tommie and me.
Yes, you have to be a pheasant-hunting
fanatic to appreciate this brand of winter
work. Hunting deep, cold and snow in late
season isn't exactly a secret tactic so much
as a masochistic calling. You either appreciate the enhanced hunting more than
you dislike the miserable weather or you
stay home. I learned to appreciate winter
ringneck action way back when I was too
young and full of fire to let a little wind,
snow and finger-freezing weather hold me
back. Tommie must have drunk the same
Kool-Aid because now, with more than 50
pheasant seasons under each of our belts,
neither of us can resist a good thing. We
don't just tolerate miserable weather, we
plan for it. We embrace it. As do most of
my bird hunting partners.
"Rooster! Behind you!" I heard my
brother's warning shout, but I was too
focused on my footrace to the South
Dakota rooster I'd just shot. Its tail feathers protruded from the snow. It was late
November.
Fish-and-game data show that the
vast majority of the hunter-killed roosters
each year will have been tucked into bellies and freezers by late November. That's
okay because a radical change in habitat
concentrates those that remain. When it
comes to finding late-season roosters, it's
not birds per square mile so much as birds
per patch of cover that matters. Roosters
from 2, maybe 3 miles away can and will
gravitate to the best combination of dense
reeds, weeds, grasses and brush near a
handy grain field.
No more than 200 yards from the truck,
we seemed to have found such a place.
When that first rooster went airborne and
my 20-gauge interrupted his flight, two
hens and another rooster launched from
the matted CRP grasses. Bob couldn't shoot
because I was in the way, running beneath
the second bird's flight path in my hurry
to claim the first. I could have left it for my
dog, but she was young with only eight or
10 roosters notched on her collar. I wasn't
quite trusting her yet with a late Dakota
ringneck.
My shot had lured our old friend Brad
from the opposite end of the little CRP field
where he'd been blocking with our shared
dog, Cricket. Late-season birds know all

Sometimes tracks are the best evidence of ringneck travel. This time of year, birds
from as far away as 2 or 3 miles may gravitate to the best cover near a grain field.

about running away from disturbance,
so a hunter or two standing in or sliding
across their escape path can stop or surprise them. Bob and I had just resumed
walking toward Brad when that very thing
happened. Repeatedly. Like popcorn-no,
more like balls of Roman candle flame-
two russet roosters leaped from the snow.
Instantly, several hens joined them. Brad's
old 16-gauge pump boomed and one
rooster tumbled. That unnerved a third
that made the mistake of filing an escape
flight past Bob. His 20-gauge double
popped and his first ringneck of the year
plummeted. By this time-a solid minute
or two since I'd shot my bird to start this
circus-I was feeling left out. So I picked
up my pace toward Brad and two unnerved
roosters launched from their snowy hide-
and I got both!
Less than an hour into my first South
Dakota pheasant hunt of the year I had
my limit.
How does that happen? How come
some lucky guys like Bob, Brad and I get
ringneck limits late in the year when most
hunters, according to statistics, get one
or none?
Experience. Coupled with endurance.
And the right gear that helps you endure.
december 2020  ❘ 

H2020_12_F_PheasantTactics.indd 58

For example, after our first day's easy limit,
we faced rain instead of snow. Rain at the
ragged edge of being snow, but wet either
way. Yet we faced the wind and marched
through public hunting areas open to any
licensed hunter-and again pocketed
limits for the second day in a row.
This was not due to inside knowledge of
a secret spot ferreted out over our decades
of hunting South Dakota. This was a quarter section of ground we'd never hunted
before. We found it in the South Dakota
Game, Fish, and Parks hunting atlas. It was
a relatively new game management area
near a big cattail slough we used to hunt
in the 1970s. Can you believe that? We're
still hunting the counties we hunted in our
20s, but back then, this 160 acres was an
overgrazed pasture. Now it was a tangle
of prairie grasses with a dense thicket of
planted trees. We stomped it all, enduring
the windblown rain, putting up a bird here
and there, but finding no pattern, no concentrations. Some in the tall grass, some at
the cattail edges, some in the trees. By the
time we'd bagged four, our hands were on
the verge of malfunction
"What say we fuel up, warm up and
regroup?" Bob proposed.
Notice he did not say something like,

58  ❘  americanhunter.org

10/15/20 3:46 PM

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http://www.americanhunter.org

American Hunter - December 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Hunter - December 2020

Contents
American Hunter - December 2020 - Cover1
American Hunter - December 2020 - Cover2
American Hunter - December 2020 - 1
American Hunter - December 2020 - Contents
American Hunter - December 2020 - 3
American Hunter - December 2020 - 4
American Hunter - December 2020 - 5
American Hunter - December 2020 - 6
American Hunter - December 2020 - 7
American Hunter - December 2020 - 8
American Hunter - December 2020 - 9
American Hunter - December 2020 - 10
American Hunter - December 2020 - 11
American Hunter - December 2020 - 12
American Hunter - December 2020 - 13
American Hunter - December 2020 - 14
American Hunter - December 2020 - 15
American Hunter - December 2020 - 16
American Hunter - December 2020 - 17
American Hunter - December 2020 - 18
American Hunter - December 2020 - 19
American Hunter - December 2020 - 20
American Hunter - December 2020 - 21
American Hunter - December 2020 - 22
American Hunter - December 2020 - 23
American Hunter - December 2020 - 24
American Hunter - December 2020 - 25
American Hunter - December 2020 - 26
American Hunter - December 2020 - 27
American Hunter - December 2020 - 28
American Hunter - December 2020 - 29
American Hunter - December 2020 - 30
American Hunter - December 2020 - 31
American Hunter - December 2020 - 32
American Hunter - December 2020 - 33
American Hunter - December 2020 - 34
American Hunter - December 2020 - 35
American Hunter - December 2020 - 36
American Hunter - December 2020 - 37
American Hunter - December 2020 - 38
American Hunter - December 2020 - 39
American Hunter - December 2020 - 40
American Hunter - December 2020 - 41
American Hunter - December 2020 - 42
American Hunter - December 2020 - 43
American Hunter - December 2020 - 44
American Hunter - December 2020 - 45
American Hunter - December 2020 - 46
American Hunter - December 2020 - 47
American Hunter - December 2020 - 48
American Hunter - December 2020 - 49
American Hunter - December 2020 - 50
American Hunter - December 2020 - 51
American Hunter - December 2020 - 52
American Hunter - December 2020 - 53
American Hunter - December 2020 - 54
American Hunter - December 2020 - 55
American Hunter - December 2020 - 56
American Hunter - December 2020 - 57
American Hunter - December 2020 - 58
American Hunter - December 2020 - 59
American Hunter - December 2020 - 60
American Hunter - December 2020 - 61
American Hunter - December 2020 - 62
American Hunter - December 2020 - 63
American Hunter - December 2020 - 64
American Hunter - December 2020 - 65
American Hunter - December 2020 - 66
American Hunter - December 2020 - 67
American Hunter - December 2020 - 68
American Hunter - December 2020 - 69
American Hunter - December 2020 - 70
American Hunter - December 2020 - 71
American Hunter - December 2020 - 72
American Hunter - December 2020 - 73
American Hunter - December 2020 - 74
American Hunter - December 2020 - 75
American Hunter - December 2020 - 76
American Hunter - December 2020 - 77
American Hunter - December 2020 - 78
American Hunter - December 2020 - State_1
American Hunter - December 2020 - State_2
American Hunter - December 2020 - 79
American Hunter - December 2020 - 80
American Hunter - December 2020 - Cover3
American Hunter - December 2020 - Cover4
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