Described as one of the oldest commercial hunting operations in South Dakota, South Dakota Pheasant Hunts started in 1955 on the family farmstead by Bill Stone and is now owned and managed by his son, Will, and Will's wife, Fay.
"Dad planted trees, preserved wetlands, and cultivated native prairie years before there were many government financial programs to support any kind of conservation practices to create habitat for wildlife," the 62-year-old Will recalls. Stone has developed his dad's legacy into over 1,000 acres of land all devoted to wildlife in general and pheasants and pheasant hunting in particular.
Located in a remote farm setting in east-central South Dakota five minutes from the town of Gary, South Dakota Pheasant Hunts consists of many corn and sorghum food plots, huge cattail sloughs wet in the middle but walkable on the edges, long treelines full of pheasant-friendly brush that only dogs can navigate and great tracts of native prairie where ringnecks may loaf all day or finally come to roost in late afternoon.
Guided hunts are offered using Stone's veteran Brittanys that spend more than 140 days in the field each season searching for, pointing, and retrieving roosters in all kinds of cover and weather conditions. Self-guided hunts are offered to clients with their own dogs.
"We encourage our hunters to bring their own dogs," Stone says. "And more than half our hunters bring several different breeds of hunting dog."
Large groups of 20 or more hunters are welcome, but they might be divided into smaller parties for convenience, efficiency and safety. Some hunts require the ability to walk a couple miles in relatively heavy cover consisting of food plots, shoulder-high prairie grass, head-high cattails, and treelines with tall shrubs and hardwoods.
Some of these habitat types can be hunted by "wingmen" who prefer easier walks in cut paths along field edges. Likewise, some hunters can block the ends of food plots, fields, sloughs and tree belts where pheasants are concentrated then flushed in bunches of sometimes a dozen or more.
Though newcomers to South Dakota Pheasant Hunts are encouraged to go with the guides the first day or two, clients can hunt on their own once they become familiar with the property. Though large groups can be accommodated, smaller groups made up of family members or friends have always been important at South Dakota Pheasant Hunts.
Special consideration is given to parent-and-children combinations because Will Stone enjoys seeing moms and dads and sons and daughters sharing outdoor experiences.
"Several family groups have hunted at South Dakota Pheasant Hunts for three generations," he notes.
When to Come
Popular times for coming to South Dakota Pheasant Hunts start in September when the weather is typically cool in the early mornings and late afternoons while mid-day might be too warm for long walks for hunters and their dogs. By October, most days will start in the 30s and rise into the 40s or 50s, providing comfortable conditions for longer walks in heavy cover.
November and December usually will be cool to cold with a chance of snow and high winds that will push pheasants into high grass, tall cattails and heavy brush in the trees.
South Dakota hunting preserves are open until March 31, which provides three months of possible winter trips "for preserve pheasants that all behave wilder than wild this time of the year," hunters often say. There's a "weather gamble," however, during these months, so long-range weather forecasts need to be carefully watched when making any late-season plans.
"Stone's veteran Brittanys spend more than 140 days in the field each season searching for, pointing, and retrieving roosters."
Rates at South Dakota Pheasant Hunts are among the most economical in the region with day hunts priced at $150 per gun for three birds with a $48 per person per day fee for a preserve license or $78 for a five-day license plus $150 per day for three roosters.
Or, to avoid buying a daily or five-day license, a hunter can buy a nonresident $125 South Dakota state small game license which allows 10 days of pheasant hunting in the state and season long access to preserves anywhere in South Dakota from Sept. 1 to March 31.
The South Dakota small game license is for sale at South Dakota Pheasant Hunts lodge. For those with a state hunting license, there are thousands of acres of public access hunting property within 40 miles of Stone's preserve.
"Some of our hunters will hunt our property for a couple of days then go to public land for a few days," Stone says.
For those interested in wildlife art, the Terry Redlin Museum is located in Watertown, 27 miles to the northwest of Gary on I-29. The museum is a huge structure containing hundreds of Redlin's original paintings in the permanent collection as well as thousands of prints and other art objects for sale. Twelve miles south of Watertown is Kone's Korner, a medium-size gun store with a wide variety of new and older collectible and classic firearms for sale. Some fine shotguns are also available.
The main lodge for South Dakota Pheasant Hunts is in Gary, 75 miles north of Sioux Falls on I-90 then 10 miles east of Clear Lake on Highway 22. A 140-year old church building has been converted into a motel-type facility where each of 10 rooms has two beds and a private bathroom with a toilet, sink, and shower.
There is a lower level in the building with a 75-person capacity dining area and a complete kitchen where country-type breakfasts (eggs and bacon with toast and pancakes) and lunch (homemade soup and sandwiches) are prepared daily by the staff. Clients are welcome to use the kitchen for preparing their own snacks and meals. Evening meals can be provided at the lodge or can be had in town at the local restaurant or at two supper clubs only a few minutes away.
"We also suggest that hunters who bring their own dogs be sure that their dogs are up-to-date in their training, in good physical condition and practiced in hunting pheasants. We also encourage the use of e-collars with stimulation and beeper locators to maintain control of all dogs in the field," Stone emphasizes.
"Our ad in GUN DOG magazine has produced about half our business in the past 20 years with most hunters returning every season," Stone says. "So there are lots of references available for prospective customers!"
For more information on South Dakota Pheasant Hunts, call 605-520-8836 or 877-260-2686 and checkout their website at huntingsdpheasants.com.