Tucked quietly into the Northeastern corner of South Dakota is Aberdeen, an unsuspecting city of some 26,000 that you may just miss if you’re not paying attention. What makes the small Northern Plains town famous, however, becomes obvious almost immediately upon arrival.
Whether you’ve got your radio tuned to the local country music station—Pheasant Country 103.7—or you’re driving past the Super 8 with a decorative blaze orange pickup truck and a sign welcoming hunters out front, you quickly realize the town has got one thing on the brain: pheasants.
But after a recent November trip to the pheasant mecca with Pheasants Forever, I also realized there are legitimate reasons for all that small-town quaintness and pheasant-driven frenzy. It has more to do with habitat and bird numbers than anything else, but there is certainly a town that’s hardwired for the rooster rush every fall.
With a combination of well-developed public lands and private outfitters with more birds than I’ve ever seen in my life, Aberdeen is within an hour of most of the great local hunting spots in the region. Whether you prefer the more manageable temperatures of early November or the bitter and blowing cold of December, South Dakota’s got your pheasant fix. I was there in late November after Thanksgiving and would have complained about the 20 degrees and 20 mile-an-hour winds had it not been for the hundreds of birds flushing before my eyes. Yes, it was worth it.
- First and foremost, what makes Aberdeen great is the phenomenal habitat, which in turn means a ridiculous number of wild birds. Because it's one of the last great bastions of habitat development—thanks in large part to groups like Pheasants Forever—that means pheasants have a place to thrive.
And thrive they do. Day one was spent hunting public land near Aberdeen, and in the first few hours that morning, a friend and I bagged three roosters. That’s a pretty sweet deal for a late-season, public land jaunt. With a trusty English setter named Blitz and a 12-gauge CZ Upland Ultralight, we trudged our way through hideously thick cattails, paying for every bird with the sweat of our brows. But again, it was well worth the effort.
Of course all land is not created equal, which was demonstrated visibly on day two. For the second go-round we made our way to Johannsen Farms Outfitting, about an hour’s drive from Aberdeen, where we met what could have been the promised land of pheasant hunting. On the first walk I saw at least 200 birds, all wild, which had me quite in awe.
Public or private, one thing is for sure—there’s no shortage of birds, which is about all you can ask of any pheasant hunting sweet spot. The only thing they can’t guarantee? That you’ll close your dropped jaw long enough to make a shot at one of the many flushing roosters on the horizon before you.