Tuesday, November 14, 2017

South Dakota Grasslands for Prairie Chickens

Every other year, for me, South Dakota had been a pheasant destination.   After my trip in October  to the Nebraska Sandhills, I've been fascinated with the Prairie Chicken.  The Grasslands have an abundant supply of Chickens, more chickens than Sharptails, in fact.  For an overall rating of the trip, it was great for chickens, very poor for pheasant.  The reason for the pheasant decline is long and somewhat complicated, but just think '100-year drought' in the region.  That pretty much explains things. But, it seems, the native birds weathered the drought very well, and the chickens have thrived. 
Shack, me, Cap
I've never given the grasslands a thought.  They seemed too vast and with a minimum of objectives. In fact, the problem was me.  Once I learned what to look for and took the advice of a few other hunters, it was a rare cast that didn't see some chickens. This time of year, they are beginning to move into larger flocks for protection from the harsh winters.  While we did see many singles and small groups, we also saw flocks of 50 that would flush 100-200 yards away from us.
Shack on point
Ethan Puckett and his second-ever chicken.
We wore out some boots cruising through the grass. 1-2 hour casts were commonplace.  Thankfully, the weather turned cool (downright cold at times) and that made the walking somewhat easier.  I was shooting a 20 ga. with #6 shot, and that was a good load for the big bird.
19 degrees and ice fog on the last day.
Would I go back? Absolutely! Chickens are fun to hunt.  They are big birds and hold fairly tight, if you can find a few young ones.  The young to old ratio this year is .9- meaning of 20 birds 9 are this year's birds and 11 are last year or older (roughly).  That means there were a lot of experienced, wizened, older chickens out there and were not likely to hang around for a lot of noise.  That's why we saw so many getting up out of range.  In addition, when they do get up, they leave.  I mean, they leave the area.  They aren't likely to set down anywhere you'll be able to get to them again. In contrast, the young to old ratio for Sharptails is 1.9- almost 2-1.  You would be more likely to get sharps to hold, because they are younger and less experienced.
Grilled Walleye at Spring Creek Resort
I stayed at a friend's lodge, north of Pierre.  He had comfortable cabins and a great restaurant. Spring Creek Resort has guided hunts for pheasant, etc., but I just needed a room and dinner.  The rooms are as nice as in town, and comparable in price. 
Matthew Puckett, me, Ethan Puckett
The hunting party consisted of a bunch of young bucks....and me. I confess, my legs were a little tight at the end of the day.
Pearl resting up on the way home.
So, even though this is a down year for pheasant, the chickens provided a tremendous challenge.  It was a rewarding trip, outside the normal species.  I may have found a new favorite.....naw, Blue Quail are still at the top.  Next month, New Mexico Blues and Arizona Mearns!