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Pheasant country braces for army of hunters
By Steve Miller, Journal Staff Writer

WINNER -- The equivalent of nearly 10 infantry divisions — slightly more than the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq — will take up arms in South Dakota on Saturday. But they will be hunting pheasants, not insurgents.

(An infantry division is about 17,000 troops, according to the South Dakota National Guard.)

More than half of the pheasant-hunting army will come from out of state.

Support personnel are already in place. They include Connie Schramm, manager of Buffalo Trails Motel on the west edge of Winner.

Schramm said the motel has been sold out since June for the first couple of weeks of the pheasant season. "I can't even hang anybody from the rafters," she said Tuesday.

East of the motel on Highway 18, Out West restaurant is hiring extra cooks, waitresses and dishwashers as it braces for the coming phalanx of out-of-state hunters, part-owner Phyllis Qualm said.

"In the morning, you look out the windows, and all you see is orange caps coming — which is good," Qualm said.

By noon, the legal shooting time, Out West will empty as the orange caps take to the fields. This scene will be repeated Saturday in cities and towns across South Dakota pheasant country.

After the hunters bag their limit, they return to Out West for pie and coffee and then show up again in the evening for supper, Qualm said. Out West boasts great steaks and hospitality, she said. "It's a good time. It's good visiting with all of them."

Pheasant hunting is a big sport and big business in South Dakota.

Last year, 85,372 out-of-staters came to South Dakota to hunt pheasants. They spent an estimated $62.5 million here, according to the state Game, Fish & Parks Department.

About the same number is expected this year, according to Tony Leif, a game administrator with the GF&P.

After several years of declining numbers of resident hunters, 2003 had a slight upward bounce, with 78,654 residents getting licensed to shoot pheasants. Leif is hoping the positive bounce continues. "We would like to see a few more residents coming into the field again," he said.

Resident hunters got an early start, with a three-day season on public lands last weekend.

This year, the pheasant season in most of the state will last an extra two days, through Jan. 2 (See box on A1). Last year, the season ended on Dec. 31. This year, the 31st falls on a Friday. "It didn't make much sense to close the first day of a three-day weekend," Leif said.

The pheasant population will be down a bit from last year's near-record numbers due to a cool, wet nesting season in June. The annual pheasant survey found about a 9 percent drop from 2003, according to the GF&P. Still, the 2004 count was the second-highest on record since 1963.

And the pheasant survey results varied widely by area. Although the Aberdeen area survey was down by 27 percent from 2003, Winner was down only about 2 percent. Pheasant numbers were up 15 percent in the Pierre area and up 25 percent in the Mobridge area.

In any case, Leif said, the average hunter won't notice much, if any, difference.

Some of the first-time, out-of-state hunters Connie Schramm sees at Buffalo Trail Motel are amazed at the plentiful number of pheasants.

But she gets a lot of hunting veterans coming back year after year. They come from all over, including Minnesota, Colorado, California, Washington state and the East Coast.

"They bring in their twin-engine jets and whatever and rent their vehicles, or they drive all the way from Minnesota and New York," Schramm said.

She lets the hunters take their dogs into the rooms with them, especially if it's cold.

"Sometimes, I'd rather have the dogs than the hunters. I can give them a bone," she said, laughing.

But Schramm is quick to say she likes the hunters. "They're a good bunch of people. I haven't met anybody I couldn't get along with, except for one dog that bit me," she said. "I fed him another bone anyway."

Pheasant facts

-- Pheasant season in South Dakota opens at noon Saturday, Oct. 16.

-- The season will last through Jan. 2, except for Butte, Meade, Lawrence and Pennington counties west of the Cheyenne River. For that area, known as Unit 2, the season lasts through Sunday, Oct. 24.

-- Daily limit is three cock pheasants.

-- Possession limit is 15 cock pheasants, taken according to daily limit, with the limit accruing at the rate of three birds a day.

-- Shooting hours are noon CDT to sunset Oct. 16 through Oct. 30; and 10 a.m. CST to sunset the rest of the season. (Central Time is used for opening shooting hours statewide.)

-- Residents need an annual small game, one-day small game, youth small game, combination or junior combination license, to hunt pheasants.

For more information, check the state Game, Fish & Parks Department Web site:

Contact Steve Miller at 394-8417 or

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