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Lee shares the the High Holiday with his son Jake and other friends and family.
Lee shares the the High Holiday with his son Jake and other friends and family.
Watertown attorney (and writer) Lee Schoenbeck's family and friends gathered for a photo after Saturday's hunt.
Watertown attorney (and writer) Lee Schoenbeck's family and friends gathered for a photo after Saturday's hunt.

S.D.'s High Holiday

Oct 17, 2011

Pheasant Season Opener is a family event in South Dakota

As I write this it is the night before the South Dakota High Holiday, the Friday before the third Saturday in October, and my friend Bernie Hunhoff just called to ask if I would write a column on the outdoors for the on-line version of South Dakota Magazine. On Pheasant Opener Eve, who could resist?

Next to Christmas, there really is no other time in South Dakota that screams FAMILY like “the opener”. If you’re a 57 zip code, or used to be, or want to be, you don’t even need to use an adjective for people to know that “the opener” is that special event on the third Saturday of October when over 100,000 “out-of-staters” join over 75,000 South Dakotans in our native ritual of the pheasant hunt.

Thursday night as I was impatiently waiting with my 16 year old in line to get his hunting license before the weekend onslaught of out-of-staters, I listened to a gentleman ahead of me getting his license. No matter how the clerk asked for information, each answer included the fact that he may not be living here any more, but that he was a South Dakotan. It was a little annoying at first, but as I listened you could tell there was a story there he wanted to share. He had sold his farm near Huron the year before and had moved elsewhere to be near children and grandchildren. It soon became clear that the other out-of-staters straggling near him were his sons from Connecticut and Chicago. This was a story happening a thousand times over across South Dakota during our High Holiday, a family united afield back in their native South Dakota.

I have to admit that while I thought it was kind of neat, I was still annoyed with two trips back and forth to town to get the gear it takes to outfit a sprouting 16-year-old for the weekend hunt. At 16, fashion matters, hand me downs — even afield — don’t cut it. I’ve done this with sons and daughters, same deal either way. Finally, after 10 gallons of case and all my after work daylight was burnt, I had a son properly licensed and outfitted for the weekend hunt. 

The next morning I happened to read the latest Ike’s issue and caught some perspective on all this preparation. It turns out that 92% of youth that enjoy the outdoor hunting experience come from a family that hunts. Meaning the majority of children that will be a part of carrying on our state’s outdoor legacy will be those whose parents made the effort at some point to make the High Holiday a family experience. That former Huron farmer pushing his eighth decade was still enjoying the fruits of some time spent with his sons years ago, getting them outfitted, getting them afield and making sure they had an experience that made them want to come back for many more years together.

Besides the family bonding opportunity our High Holiday presents, those who hunt also leave a substantial legacy for the rest of their communities. The federal excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment and ammunition provide more than 75% of the total funding of many wildlife agencies in America. Those dollars support habitat development, clean water, and the creation of outdoor opportunities of all stripes.

This year the rooster roundup continues until January 1st. If it sounds like taking a youngster out in the field safely with a loaded firearm for a several mile walk might be a little inconvenient — it is. Like a lot of what’s involved in raising children, there’s sacrifice. But I have yet to hear a mother endure the unbelievable pains of labor and express regret about the fruits the experience.

So when you get the chance, grab a son or daughter and be a part of something special for today --- and for the future — out on the land here at home in South Dakota.


EDITOR'S NOTE: See more photos of the 2011 Pheasant Opener in our gallery.


02:00 pm - Mon, October 17 2011
Heidi said:
Welcome to the South Dakota Magazine crew Lee. I look forward to your insight on our great outdoor adventures. By the way, your son is a lucky kid!
02:28 pm - Mon, October 17 2011
Bernie Hunhoff said:
Thanks Lee, look forward to reading your thoughts on the outdoors. I heard today on the radio that it costs about $10,000 a year to raise a child these days .... so it's going to be expensive no matter what endeavors you decide to pursue. I was in Gregory County on opening day and spent some time with a father/son and father/daughter hunting expedition. They were hunting on public lands near Dixon and never fired a shot, but you could see that everyone was enjoying the experience ... all but the cockleburs.
06:38 pm - Tue, October 18 2011
David Bordewyk said:
Great column. South Dakota needs a statewide school holiday to coincide with the pheasant opener so more kids can appreciate South Dakota's outdoors and hunting opportunities. I think North Dakota has a school holiday in conjunction with its deer opener. We need to find legislators to support this idea...

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