We have four days to get in, lay waste and get out. Heading up to South Dakota to chase pheasant has become a tradition for me over the last few years. I love my state of Colorado, but let's face it, it doesn't come close to the pheasant Mecca of South Dakota. Greg, Bryce and I, along with our four-legged crew packed up Greg's F-150 to the hilt and pointed her north. Lacreek is the destination, a National Wildlife Refuge that offers a fair amount of terrain to hunt that's an ideal distance from where we pay our mortgages; a mere six hours away.
There is a common theme with the trips Greg and I go on; we spend as little as possible and get the full value out of the day. This will be my first trip with Bryce, so his vote was already outnumbered. If he was hoping for a cushy hotel room, he had a rude awakening coming. He was going to be spending four glorious nights packed into the bed of a truck with two other stinky dudes. I always wonder why I get a sideways look from my girlfriend when I leave town explaining this exact plan. Women.
This obviously isn't Bryce's first rodeo when it came to road tripping on the cheap. Not a complaint was heard.
We come to a stop around 1:00 am at camp and crashed out with high hopes for the morning. Hopefully I haven't hyped up the area too much as I tend to do on long car rides. Neither of these guys have hunted this area and I'm sure they are looking to make some stories of their own after I regale them for endless hours on past feats of wing shooting in these hallowed grounds. They heard every irrelevant story that I could think of, and I now have the sneaking suspicion that they pretended to be asleep just to shut me up.
We woke up at a leisurely 8:00 am to cook burritos and coffee, getting the day started right. I won't lie and say that I don't like the enforced later start that South Dakota mandates. Taking your time before a hunt is a rare treat, we take full advantage of it.
Thank God. The birds are everywhere. The pheasant gods have not made me a liar. We pummeled them hard in the rare warm weather the day offered up. I take the guys to the spots I know that have held pheasants in the past. They seem to have held to these same spots as if glued there. We all limited well before closing time.
Day 2 & 3
Now this was more like it. The temps dropped considerably as the winds pick up to a point where I kept looking for the engine of a 777 over my shoulder. The weather was brutal and the hunting even more so. As we leaned into the winds and searched for cover that we thought would protect the birds, we consistently saw them take off hundreds of yards ahead of us. It didn't matter if we were walking into the wind or with it, they spotted us. I know they get a little paranoid in the wind, but this was crazy. I looked to Greg and Bryce to see who had the guiltiest look.
"One of you two tipped them off." I said under my breath.
Due to some impressive shooting on the other guys' part, a few more birds were taken down in spite of the conditions.
The cold and wind hadn't eased up. Actually it more than likely increased. We weren't stopping however, this was the last day and we wanted to put some birds on the ground. We started off in some fields I hadn't tried before. No more than 50 steps out of the truck and up flies a barrage of them. Bryce quickly puts one down and we moved on. The wind increased as we leaned into it and our eyes teared up from the cold.
I looked over at Greg and his pup Tikka as they stared at a bird hovering in the air, trying to gain distance from them in the headwind.
"Shoot it!" I yelled in the tearing wind.
I slowly mounted my 12 gauge to my shoulder and squeezed off what must have been the easiest shot I'd ever taken. Down plummeted the bird from its holding pattern.
"I forgot to tell you there are Sharpies out here as well!" I yelled over to Greg. We gathered around to take a look.
"First time I have seen one of those, looked like a hen pheasant with its tail feathers shot off." Greg relayed.
" There will be more." I warned as we headed off.
And there were. Maybe 60 or so more, but they weren't letting us near them. They took off at a mere 300 yard rifle shot from us. No dice.
The day was getting long and we decided to hop out of the refuge to check some other fields. Smart move. We saw some of the thickest cover of the trip and decided to barrel in head first.
Pheasants were everywhere. Gun shots rang out as birds fell from the sky. Birds were stuffed into game packs as closing time neared.
"One hell of a way to end our trip." I said to Sage, my lab, as we made our way out of the field.
The corners of his eyes were bloody with scratches from the thick cover, but if it hurts, he's sure wasn't showing it. This dog is a warrior. If they gave out Purple Hearts to canines, this guy would be lined with them from nose to tail.
We all make it back to the truck just before dark. Birds were cleaned with frozen hands in front of the piercing headlights of the F-150. Freezing and tired, we were nothing but smiles.
"There's no doubt, we're all starting a tradition out of this, right?" I asked as we cleaned.
Both looked at me like I was an idiot for even asking.
"Without a doubt. But with this tradition starts a new one. Stop being so cheap. Next year it'll be a cabin and the girls come up. No more sleeping next a bunch of dudes in the back of a freezing truck." Was Greg's reply.
"Done." Came my elated response.
I think my days of Ramen noodles and sleeping like a hobo are limited. It's time to welcome a bit of the good life.