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Planning your South Dakota Pheasant Hunting Trip from A-Z

By: Chris Hitzeman

If you live anywhere in the U.S. and have never gone through the process of booking a pheasant hunting trip to the Dakota's, it may not be obvious to long time pheasant hunter as to just how to go about doing that.

After having talked with and assisted many hunters in answering questions about their trip, it has become apparent to me that there are many facets and phases to pulling off a successful pheasant hunting trip to the Dakota's. So for the first-time non-resident pheasant hunting tourist, I thought I would put together a phased approach "how-to" article on "everything you ever wanted to know about booking a pheasant hunt to the Dakota's" from A to Z".

Phase 1 - Researching and Reserving

Whether you are planning a bargain budget public hunting no frills trip or the Bo Jackson all-inclusive fully guided hunt, you'll need to do your homework. For public hunting the best sources are going to be your Game & Fish websites. For outfitters of self-guided, semi-guided or fully-guided hunts you'll find excellent sources of info from pheasant hunting websites, hunting magazines, internet articles, and internet searches on Google, Yahoo and MSN.
What are your expectations? What are your requirements for your group for lodging, hunting, meals, bird cleaning, cover types, etc. Hunting operations and experiences vary widely in the Dakota's and knowing you groups specific requirements will go a long way to helping you have a better than average outcome. Some of the requirements common to all groups are these: What hunting dates did you have in mind? Do you intend on hunting wild birds or preserve hunting released birds? How many are in your group? How many days did you want to hunt? What accommodations and services does your group need? (Lodging, guiding, meals, other), what are your favorite types of cover to hunt?
Some hunting operations have a "wait list" and take reservations up to 2 years in advance. The more common time frame is 11-12 months in advance. The average hunter waits until Aug-Sept. to book. The best time to book a hunt is right after the one you were happy with. If you don't have that luxury and you are within the year of your hunt, the clock is ticking and you and your group need to find a sense of urgency about getting a spot lined up because most operations book first-come-first-serve with a 50% deposit required to reserve your dates. If the operation only provides hunting then you will also need to check dates of local motels in the area to insure you have lodging to go with the hunting. Don't book a "hunt only" package until you have your lodging in order.

Phase 2 - Preparation and Packing

Off-Season Activities
Assuming you now have your land and lodging tied up your focus can shift to other off-season activities. Don't overlook the physical shape of you and your dog. Hunting can be physically demanding at times and especially if the weather is warm as is the case in the earlier season. Think of activities you enjoy that emulate what will take place in the hunting fields. It is also a good idea and time to research a vet that will be in the area in case you dog needs stitches or any other urgent care while on your trip. Your local vet, hunting outfitter or internet search are your best options for finding a vet near the area your are planning to hunt. This research can be a "hunt saver".
Shopping and Supplies
As far as meals go, whether you are doing your own cooking or eating out, 2 meals per day and a snack in the field is sufficient. Plan your meal shopping accordingly. As far as shells go, I like a 2 ¾", 1.25oz, 1500fps, #5, premium load. Whatever you do get a quality load and it will decrease your cripples and increase your bagged birds. Assuming your going to be taking some birds home, you'll need supplies for cleaning and packing. I like wearing latex gloves. Bring a lawn/garbage bags if you want to clean right in the field. Rose pruning shears work great for quick snipping of wings, head or feet (one must be attached to bird for legal transport). Bring freezer bags, vacuum bags and coolers to store your birds for rest of hunt and trip home (some outfitters will have freezers to get your birds froze for you). If you can't freeze your birds keep a block of ice in your coolers until you get them home and can freeze them.
Clothing and other Supplies
Check with your outfitters to see if you need to bring your own sleeping bag, pillow, towels (some outfitters only provide the beds). As far as clothing goes you want to bring plenty of orange. I generally recommend planning for warm weather and cold weather and dress accordingly. You never know what you are going to end up with for weather conditions. Other musts are: shooting gloves, shooting glasses and orange hat (think safety, safety, safety). Pheasants are known for their low flying escape tactics and that is why these articles are a must.

Phase 3 - Traveling and the Hunt

I like a 4-night stay and a 3-day hunt. The reason being is that most hunters are driving 6-16 hours each way. To get the most out of your hunting days pleasure, don't travel on your hunting days. Plan to arrive the night before your hunt starts and get a good nights rest before launching a long drive back home.
The Hunt
Spend a sufficient amount of time with your host to show you around the property. This is especially important if you have booked a self-guided hunt. Make sure you are comfortable with the layout and location of the property you are hunting. Take some time with your group on strategizing how you are going to hunt it. Believe me, if you are hunting wild pheasants, the birds have the upper hand. Also, the biggest mistake hunters make is by getting all excited and walking TOO FAST. Bottom line: Land is expensive, don't waste it. You need to maximize to acres you have to hunt that hold birds and hunt more slowly. You would be amazed to know the numbers of birds you are actually walking by.

Phase 4 - Rebooking

What do we do next time?
Both before and during your hunt, talk with your group about next years plans. There is never a better time than to discuss next years hunting plans than when you are with your group this year. In the long run, this saves time and will result in a better quality experience in the future. If the place you were hunting at met your needs I would suggest rebooking it within 2-weeks of the conclusion of your hunt. If it didn't meet your needs the best time to find a replacement hunt is within 1-2 months after your hunt concludes.