Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith
Returning to South Dakota stimulates so many redeeming emotions. I am beside myself as I take in familiar sights including the state Capitol, the abundant Canada geese which flock here this time of the year and congregate en masse by the Capitol lake, the nearby Missouri River and thoroughfares crowded by businesses and commercial entrepreneurs — as they are in every other community from Kennebunkport to Laredo.
I love it here because I love Anyplace, America. While I come here for the ultimate experience, which is to shoot a cock pheasant, there is more. I have friends here, I have new memories to make, and I have a passion to experience again and again the unadulterated joy in traipsing through the grain fields of ranches where cock pheasant abound. Like it was here recently with Jay Etzkorn and his friends Byron Warren and Homer Harding and Homer’s grandson Zach Retrum. They made my latest hunt uplifting and productive, along with an assist from Anna, Chief, and Hootch — alert and cagey dogs which can smell a pheasant in the next county.
The cock pheasant is one of the most beautiful game birds known to man. It has royal beauty that is downright becoming. The experience is something to write home about. You only need an artist to accompany you and bring the scene to canvas.
Fields planted in strips of Milo and Sudan grass are where the pheasant hide. There are splotches from a recent snow to give the scene added character. In the distance looms the uneven hills and valleys of the prairie. This is a different landscape from that with which I am familiar where there are miles and miles of trees. The miles and miles of prairie are just as heartwarming to a South Dakotan as the trees are to a son of the Deep South. I’m enraptured by both.
When you walk the grain fields of South Dakota, you find yourself reflecting on the lyrics of “America the Beautiful.” Those lyrics are so encompassing of our great land that you are overcome emotionally by walking fields with “amber waves of grain.”
South Dakota is a land of prairie and open spaces, those amber waves of grain, Mt. Rushmore, and ongoing construction of a gargantuan statue of Chief Crazy Horse, which seems to be no more near completion than it was 10 years ago. The largest town, Sioux Falls, has a population of 156,592 — just a little bigger than Savannah at approximately 140,000. They raise cattle here and always keep an eye on beef prices. Every cultivatable acre of land is planted in grain, but not just to feed the cattle — the pheasant are grain aficionados, too.
Pheasant hunting is a leading tourist draw in the state, at least in the fall. More than 100,000 nonresident hunters flock here annually for the best pheasant hunting anywhere. If Thomasville is the quail capital of the world, then the state of South Dakota can claim to be the pheasant capital of world. To give one city in the state that honor would probably cause civil war.
There is both passion and outdoor affection for pheasant hunting. Pheasant hunting can be addictive, and I happily have succumbed.
You walk through the Milo with Anna, Chief, and Hootch searching for a scent. Suddenly, they are frozen rigidly on a point, noses cocked with confirmation that a pheasant is lurking in front of them. Jay and Byron speak to them gently as we approach. “Be ready,” Jay says.
A Ring-neck in stunning splendor lifts up with a cackle and begins flight. It is such a beautiful sight that you catch yourself admiring the scene before you realize that beautiful rooster will soon be out of range if you don’t take immediate action. Your aim is true and a beautiful bird plummets to earth. Good feelings wash over you, causing you bow in reverence of the beauty and compatibility of the great outdoors. Your sense of admiration and affection accelerates.
The day ends as you gather around the dinner table with Homer and his family and recall a day in the fields. You raise a toast to the cock pheasant and to South Dakota hospitality. Hard to beat.
Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.