10 Feb | Posted by Mark
We left our friends Jeremy and Jay at Rolling Plains Adventures on November 2 and headed south on Highway 83 into South Dakota. Since we got an early start to our off day, we meandered into Strasburg, ND (the birthplace of Lawrence Welk) for a hot breakfast at the Galley Café. Bill got his bacon and eggs and a chance to talk with the local ladies about the upcoming elections. We aired out the dogs, scouted some of the area Public Walk-ins, then continued south, stopping for lunch in Mobridge, SD, the northernmost crossing of the Missouri River in South Dakota.
Bill and I were the successful bidders for a 3-night, 2-day hunt at Brown’s Hunting Ranchat the annual Pheasant Fest convention last February. We worked with our lodge hosts, Mark and Robin Braaten to schedule our hunt and add a third day of hunting. When we arrived Scott Linden of Wingshooting USA and his film crew were just checking in at the same time. I had met Scott two years ago, at the Kansas Governors Hunt; we shared a few glasses of late night wine with Joe Kneib and JB Hodgdon back at our hotel. With him there, I figured we’d be in for a good time.
Robin got us checked in and gave us a tour of our rooms and the main lodge. This place is over the top cool. The main lodge and cabins sit on a bluff overlooking Lake Oahe. There are only 6 cabins, each is a duplex with a single and a double queen bedroom elegantly appointed, so even at max occupancy there will only be 18 guests at the lodge. We had plenty of room inside and grassy area outside to tie out our chain gang of dogs. They spend their nights in the cozy confines of the Ainley trailer, but I like to get them aired out anytime I can.
The main lodge consists of a full bar, game area, dining room, and patio overlooking the lake. The walls are lined with trophy game, birds, and celebrity shots of past guests. The Benelli 828 shotgun commercial was shot here with Lee, Tiffany, and Theresa Vail (Ms. Kansas 2013). Breakfast and dinner are served in the main lodge, with lunch in the field.
The Brown family has been farming this area of South Dakota for three generations. They farm approximately 100,000 acres (157 square miles) of sunflowers, corn, and wheat–and have limited hunting access to lodge guests and family only. Their farm management programs provide excellent habitat for wild populations of pheasants, sharp tail grouse, and Hungarian partridge. They provide private guide service for each group of hunters, so we’d be with our own guide and no other hunters—SWEET!
Our guide, Dustin Byrum, told us we’d be hunting the West River area of the farm tomorrow. In South Dakota, you can’t hunt pheasant until 10:00 AM, so we had plenty of time for a hot breakfast and an hour drive to the fields located south of Parade, SD, inside the Cheyenne Indian Reservation. At this point of the season I was down to two dogs, Rosie and Sky. Stevie was out the first week with a barbed wire encounter, Bella was in season in Bemidji, MN, and Pearl had just torn her leg up on barbed wire on Tuesday and was out for 2 weeks. Dustin was also a dog trainer and, so with his 5 dogs we still had plenty of dog power.
We drove though about 4 miles of dirt and field roads to park the dog trailer, dropping into a wide watershed with native grasses that led further into a waterway meandering through wheat and corn fields. Dustin led us down to the first turn, then directed us on our own to hunt down to the waterway and follow it to the west. I had Rosie and Sky down in front of us. We flushed a few wild roosters out to our front, and watched them sail away. Once we got down to the bottom of the waterway, the immensity of the terrain was amazing. Bill and I separated by about 100 yards, with him on the south side and I on the North. It was warm and dry and we were pushing birds all the way up the draw. In the corner, we pushed them into a large plum thicket and out they came. Again, a little out of range, but our blood was up and the game was on. We moved on down the draw and I was pushing up a cattail thicket with Rosie when I got a great point over her in tight for our first rooster of the day. As we moved on up the draw it go narrower and the water wider with scattered cattails throughout. Bill got to the north side along the corn edge and flanked to the front. The birds were escaping into the corn on that side and I was sure Bill could get ahead of them and I’d push them up with the dogs. Sky, Rosie, and I stayed on the south side of the water and moved forward. Then the eruption happened. I stayed focused and shot one bird going out left-to-right, way behind Bill, and Sky went across the water and made the retrieve. Rosie was down in the middle of the draw heading towards Bill. Bill was waving his arms for me to come over and help him find his birds! In one short span, he had shot one to the rear, two more to the front, and a fourth to the ravine. With the dry conditions, we had to search hard for the downed birds in the grass, but ended up finding all of them. Then we lead Rosie and Sky to the ravine where they flushed out the winged bird and chase him down. Our first day limit of SD ringnecks took us about an hour and a half, but we were still about 3 miles from out take out location, so we hunted on in search of sharp tails and Huns. We did chase down some sharp-tails, but they just made it into the corn before we could get up with them. On the way, back across the ravine we flushed a covey of Huns but we were winded walking up the hill and neither of us got off a shot.
After lunch, we scouted the farm and were successful in finding and shooting our first South Dakota Sharp Tails out in the cut wheat fields. It was a great first day for our Brown’s Hunting Ranch experience.