Illinois Outdoors at PrairiestateOutdoors.com
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Jeff Lampe
Jeff Lampe

Jeff Lampe has been outdoor writer at the Journal Star in Peoria for 12 duck seasons. He lives in Elmwood with his wife Monica, sons Henry, Victor and Walter, and Llewellin setter Hawkeye. A native of Buffalo, N.Y., he is an avid fan of the Bills and still has mental scars from four consecutive Super Bowl losses. Outside of hunting and fishing, Lampe's main passion in Illinois was Class A boys basketball (which sadly no longer exists). Former publisher of the Class A Weekly newsletter, Lampe is a co-author of "100 Years of Madness" and "Classical Madness," both books focusing on prep basketball in Illinois.

Illinois Outdoors
 

Scattershooting

A Web log by Jeff Lampe of the Journal Star

Illinois hunting and fishing

Upland Odyssey 1: SoDak

December 06, 2009 at 05:44 AM

Illinois hunting and fishing

Late-season info

South Dakota’s pheasant season runs through Jan. 3 and could offer a golden opportunity for hunters willing to brave the cold in pursuit of hot rooster shooting.

Brown County near Aberdeen typically leads South Dakota in overall pheasant harvest. Click here to learn more.

There’s also plenty of information at HuntFishSD.com.

The Grand Lodge in Highmore is located in Hyde County, not far from the Missouri River. Openings remain. Click here to learn more.

The South Dakota Office of Tourism also has information on hunting. Click here to learn more.

 

HIGHMORE, S.D.—The picture was perfect for any upland hunter.

Snow. Grass. Sorghum.

And then so many pheasants flushing into the air that you struggled to draw a bead on any one bird.

Afterwards, some estimated as many as 2,000 pheasants erupted from the food plots, grass, cut sorghum and tree plantings as our group of orange-clad hunters approached.

Almost as astonishing was that we managed just three roosters out of that feathered frenzy. But sometimes, when faced with an epic moment, merely watching is enough.

“I saw more birds in the air today that I have ever seen,” Champlin, Minn. resident Billie Hildebrand said. “And I have hunted a lifetime in Minnesota.”

“I hate to say it, but there were too many birds,” said Casey Weismantel of Aberdeen, S.D.

Only in South Dakota.

And this year, only recently.

While hunting in the Pheasant Capital of the U.S. is always better than anywhere else, many rooster boosters were frustrated in October and November.

“With all the crops still in and all the wet fields, it made it tough to get to the birds,” said John Luttrell, a dog trainer and guide from Clark, SD. “These last few days are the first time this year I haven’t had to wear knee-high boots to pheasant hunt. And three or four times the water went over my boots.”

That has changed in the past week, as farmers have been hard at the harvest, fields dried and frigid temperatures froze any remaining mud.

During our visit to Hyde County—organized by the conservation-minded folks at Pheasants Forever—we encountered no standing water or crops. Mostly we hunted sorghum strips planted in the midst of grass, though we also spent an afternoon flushing countless birds out of a picked corn field and walked a few shrubby shelterbelts. Anywhere we went birds were plentiful but wary, which is to be expected since the South Dakota season started nearly two months ago. Even so, everyone got their shots and their birds.

In two days with the crew from The Grand Lodge in Highmore, our party racked up 108 birds. That’s a three-bird limit for every hunter, every day. After the snow, Wednesday’s hunt was done by 2 p.m.

For lodge owners like Mike Solberg, though, the fast shooting doesn’t make up for what has been a tough year. Last summer Solberg lost 66 expected corporate bookings due to the ongoing economic downturn. That was true for many other lodge owners, as well.

And when news of the late harvest and wet conditions spread, some other hunters cancelled or postponed hunts. That’s a tough blow for South Dakota, which relies on pheasant hunting as its No. 1 tourism attraction.

In an effort to generate a late flurry of hunting business, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission considered raising the state’s three-bird pheasant limit to five. But the measure was voted down last Thursday.

Probably the biggest benefactors from that are the pheasants, which are obviously still around in huge numbers. That and the local hunters like Luttrell, who spends the remaining month of hunting season chasing birds with friends despite oft-frigid temperatures.

“The late season is awesome,” he said. “Last year the week before Christmas me and some friends from Minnesota hunted for four days and the warmest temperature was 15 below zero. And we got our birds every day.”

Only in South Dakota.

Illinois hunting and fishing

 

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