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Hunters cherish the stories from their South Dakota pheasant hunts just as much as the birds themselves.
Hunters cherish the stories from their South Dakota pheasant hunts just as much as the birds themselves.

Pheasant Tales from South Dakota

Nov 27, 2019

Redfield recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of South Dakota’s first official pheasant hunt. Hundreds of men and women marched the cornfields of Spink County and then gathered for a prime rib dinner and some wonderful storytelling. The festive event prompted us to remember some of our favorite pheasant tales from the last 35 years of publishing South Dakota Magazine.

Madison wildlife artist John Green once told us the story of when he went afield with some out-of-state sportsmen who had only seen jackalopes in pictures and gift shops. As they neared the end of a corn row, a jackrabbit with tall ears — but, needless to say, no antlers — jumped from the corn and hopped away. One of the hunters yelled out, “Don’t shoot! It’s a doe!”

Lots of famous people have come to South Dakota to hunt pheasants. That makes for some interesting conversations, especially for the Zoss family. Adolf Zoss was hunting near Letcher in 1945 when an old Ford came down a dirt road. It was Lawrence Welk, the famous champagne music man, with members of his band. Welk asked Adolf if he knew where there might be birds, and the South Dakotan gladly guided them to several of his favorite spots.

Zoss couldn’t wait to tell his wife, Amelia, but unfortunately neither she or any of their 11 children believed him because he was known for telling stories.

As Welk gained greater fame and a national TV audience, Zoss told and retold the story to his doubting family until he died in 1957.

Imagine his survivors’ surprise, however, when an issue of Lawrence Welk Magazine was published in 1968 with stories about Welk’s days in the Dakotas and a picture and story about a successful pheasant hunt. There on page 56 was a photo of Welk with a shotgun, and sitting in the old Ford were his band members and a slightly bemused Adolf Zoss. No doubt they all had a “wunnerful” time.

The Brooklyn Dodgers came to Winner to hunt pheasants in the 1930s. After quickly limiting on birds, the players were looking for more to do so the hotel manager suggested they talk to David Busk, who told them about rattlesnake hunting. Busk was known for eradicating more than 3,000 rattlesnakes to protect local children. He took the ballplayers to the White River valley where they caught and killed quite a few snakes. The players came back for several years to help Busk in his mission, giving double meaning to the old Dodger saying, “Wait ’til next year!”

Peggy Schiedel of Yankton remembers meeting Cary Grant when he came to their Faulkton farm to hunt. He was a friend of her uncle, who was a Navy captain in California. “My brothers and I slept in the mudroom so our guests could have our bedrooms, but we were still thrilled to have them because they brought boxes of La Fama Candy.” She says Grant taught them how to walk on stilts, and he showed her dad how to build them.

Monte James, a South Dakota farm broadcaster on the Ag Network, once guided some Coca Cola executives from Atlanta on a hunt near Vivian. Despite their enthusiasm, the Southerners couldn’t hit the proverbial barn. But they were determined to get some birds. Finally, James and his dog Ice Cream flushed some pheasants in some very high grass and the hunters emptied their shotguns to no avail. But James hollered, “You knocked a couple down!”

Then he and Ice Cream disappeared into the brush to look for the birds. He stealthily pulled a few birds from his own pouch. He sent one with Ice Cream and he carried the other himself. The hunters were giddy with excitement and left James a big tip, which he used in part to buy Ice Cream a buffalo ribeye.

Out-of-state hunters do, unfortunately, become the inspiration for some of our pheasant humor but they probably don’t mind — at least not any more than we mind the joke about the South Dakota cowboy who traveled to Kansas to see the Statue of Liberty.

These past 100 pheasant hunting seasons have been all about having a fun time and turning strangers into friends. Here’s to another 100 years, humor and all.


07:51 am - Fri, November 29 2019
Ed Goss said:
Well out of those 100 years I have hunted with the Barnes family and friends from Michigan to Texas for 50 consecutive years. Not bad out of one hundred.
06:18 am - Sun, December 1 2019
larry kurtz said:
Introducing the Chinese ring-necked pheasant is one of the most destructive acts of ecoterrorism ever committed in the US but the bird has become a canary in an atrazine, neonicotinoid and glyphosate-soaked corn mine. Add the extirpation of apex predators, the resulting rise of mesopredators, increasing numbers of domestic dogs and cats then stir in a melange of industrial chemicals with climate change and voila: red state collapse on parade!
09:56 am - Mon, December 2 2019
Cleo Waters said:
I enjoyed the story "Pheasant Tales from South Dakota". There are so very many stories about pheasant hunting in this state. Skip Graff (now deceased) from Irene had a pheasant farm and entertained a lot of out-of-state hunters. One of them was Ed Hearn. Ed was a catcher with the Kansas City Royals when they won the World Series. He has quite a life story to share and he does just that as a public speaker. My husband and I were pleased to share our home with Ed during one of his hunting trips here.

My son-in-law's (Larry Torgerson) grandmother had a special set of dishes that she served food on at the beginning day of pheasant hunting season each year - those dishes are now with Larry and my daughter Connie. One day we were working together cleaning strawberries when Larry told me that a chair I was sitting on was at his grandmother's and Clark Gable sat in that chair when he was pheasant hunting one year! I actually believed him (but it wasn't true!). The story you wrote about Lawrence Welk reminded me of that fib!

Two of my sons got their pickup stuck on a country road one year and I had to help them get out with my Toyota sedan!!!!

The stories go on and on and on.....

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