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Good Old Days

December 09, 2013 by

Hunting pheasants in South Dakota during the 1960's is fondly remembered by the locals as the “Good Old Days” of pheasant hunting. This era was a simpler time than today and filled with the nostalgia of rural America. The pheasant population was booming because of the increased habitat created by the government's Soil Bank Program (similar to today's Conservation Reserve Program). A gallon of gas cost 19 cents a gallon, a new pickup cost $2,000 and you could buy a pretty nice shotgun for less than $100. Traveling to South Dakota in October to hunt the colorful ringneck pheasant became a rite of passage for upland bird hunters from across America.

As a young boy back in the good old days, I vividly remember the sunny fall days walking the fields with my dad, older brothers, uncles, cousins or whoever showed up to hunt. It was such a special family time that I always thought of the "Pheasant Opener" in the same context as Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter. It was a holiday filled with good times and good food.

Our family would always gather at the farm on Saturday of opening weekend waiting for the high noon start time. I remember it never failed that every year you would hear distant gunshots about 5 minutes before noon. And my dad would say every year “Well I guess our watches are slow” and we headed into the field.

My job as an eight year old boy was to retrieve and carry pheasants. Similar to the job of our Labrador retrievers that instantly transformed from farm dogs to seasoned hunting dogs with one flush of a pheasant. The same dogs that ate cow poop and chased cats were now quartering in front of the hunters and retrieving to hand like they had spent months at the trainer. I remember I had wire pheasant carriers strapped to both sides of my belt and could carry six pheasants before I was full up. At the end of the field I remember proudly walking to the pickup and throwing my load into the pile of pheasants.

On Sunday of opening weekend we always traveled a fair distance to a cousin's farm to hunt fresh fields. On one particular Sunday I remember walking through a soil bank field on the first walk of the day and pheasants were flying and dying all around. It was a massacre. I had my full load of 6 pheasants and we were only a few hundred yards into the half mile walk. As the walk continued, my job became running shells back and forth to my family because everybody was running out of shells. It's not easy to run and keep your pants pulled up with a bunch of pheasants strapped to your belt.

At the end of the field I remember everybody comparing how hot their gun barrels had gotten (no ventilated rib barrels back then) and it was about that time reality struck and they decided they better count the pheasants in the pile. The limit was higher than it is now, but to the dismay of all there were nearly two limits in the pile and the conversation turned to how to get them all home.

My oldest brother was appointed to make the illegal run with a trunk load of pheasants. For some reason he told me to come with him; maybe for sympathy if we got stopped by the game warden. He took off his hunting vest and left his gun with the others and we took off in our getaway car trying to look like just a couple of kids out for a drive. We both returned to being law abiding citizens after that, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

At Eagle Pass Lodge we try and recreate the same atmosphere as the traditional "family" pheasant hunts of the 1960's. The stories are different today than they were in the good old days, but the common denominator still today is hunting pheasants with friends and family in the fields of South Dakota.

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