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Hunting Seasons are Here by Gary Howey

  You have to feel it, the air, the cool brisk temperatures and the breeze that will soon bring the cold weather our way. 

  My old hunting dog, “Mo” knew right away that it was here; he had a little more bounce in his step when I let out for his run

  He would come out of the kennel on a dead run, nose to the ground, tail high in the air and after two or three laps around the yard, run to the back of the pickup thinking that it was time to go hunting.

   You will not have to look at a calendar to know that fall arrives on September 22. You will feel it!

  With the arrival of fall outdoorsmen and women, know that hunting seasons have begun or are getting close

    In South Dakota, one of the first seasons to open is the sharptail grouse/prairie chicken season, which opened Sep 15, 2018, closing January 6, 2019. 
  South Dakota Game & Parks lek surveys indicated that grouse numbers were looking good this year with substantial increase in numbers in several counties including; Jackson, with a 321% change, Beadle with its 100% change and Jerauld-Aurora  that has a 125% change over last year.

  Sharp-tailed grouse, the sharptails and greater prairie chickens, known as prairie grouse, closely related native birds found across areas of the state where you will find mainly prairie landscapes of central and western South Dakota. 

  Sharptails have a short tail with its two center feathers longer and darker than its outer tail feathers, giving its tail feathers that sharper look than those of the prairie chicken and where these birds gained their name. Their coloring is mottled dark with a light brown and a light background, while prairie chickens have a shorter tail that is, dark, and rounded. Grouse have feathers running all the way down their legs to their toes, while the prairie grouses feet are hairless.         

 Most prairie grouse hunting occurs on large expanses of grassland, but some birds occur in cropland along the field edges in grassland areas. They group up in coveys, which grows in numbers size in later season. Prairie grouse can also be found in mixed flocks in areas where their habitat or range overlaps.

  Grouse are a creature of the prairie and like most other wildlife living on the prairie; depend on their eyesight for safety.

  Grouse locate in areas where they have a clear sight of vision.  At times, it will be an area with thinnest cover as this gives them the ability to spot danger at a distance.

  Since they inhabit the prairie, where it seems like it is always windy, look for grouse on the downwind side of a ridge or hill.

  They will move into thick cover to get out of the sun and I have found them nestled under cedar trees on very warm sunny days.

  If you are hunting on a day that is very warm, especially during the early season, look for them around stock tanks, ponds or any location where they might easily find water.

  The edges of irrigated alfalfa fields are also a good spot to look for grouse as the alfalfa is a good food source for the birds and the irrigation systems wheel tracks generally hold enough water to quench the grouses thirst.

  A good way to locate grouse is to look a field over with your field glasses before heading into it to hunt. As grouse will usually have a sentry or two with their head protruding above the grass looking for danger.

Grouse season is one of the first hunting seasons to open. These hunters with the help of a good dog took limits of grouse and prairie chicken from an irrigated field corner. (Gary Howey Photo)

  A friend of mine once said, “When looking for grouse, what you want to look for are their sentries. They always have one or two birds keeping an eye on things, so look for something out there that resembles the top of a bowling pin because the sentry grouse’s long neck will be protruding above the cover.”

  When hunting grouse, you will not need a heavy game load to hunt grouse as a 7 ½ shot works well during the early season. Early season birds will set longer before flushing, as many of the birds are the young of the year.

  As the season progresses, once the birds have been pressured, a 6 shot gives you a little more knock down power at longer range as the birds are more apt to flush wild.

  Hunting grouse can be demanding, because long walks are common unless you spot the birds before you go after them.

  Once grouse have flushed, they tend to pump and glide into the next section or even several sections away before landing.  This is especially true during the late season.

  When hunting grouse or any game bird during warm weather with dogs, you need to be sure that you bring along lots of water for both yourself and the dog.

  When it is warm and I hunt with a dog, I carry a sports squeeze bottle in my vest and water the dog whenever he looks like he is getting hot.

  If you like dark meat, then grouse will be right up your alley. It tends to be a bit dry if over cooked, so it is best when cooked to what I call medium rare.

  Grouse hunting is a great way to get out into the prairies and grasslands to hunt prior to the pheasant opener.

  Hunters in South Dakota who hope to bag a prairie chicken do best hunting the south-central part of the state, there is a small sharptail population east of the Missouri River while west of the Missouri you will find them from Haakon and Stanley counties south to the Missouri River.

  Open throughout the state with a daily bag with a daily limit of three, with a combination Sharptails, Prairie Grouse and Ruffed Grouse and  a  possession limit of 15 that need to be taken over a five-day period.

  Shooting hours are from Sunrise to sunset, except in the Lacreek National Wildlife refuge where the shooting hours are noon central time for the first 7 days of the season to sunset the rest of the season.

  South Dakota is known for Pheasants and there is no doubt that, South Dakota is the pheasant hunting capitol of the world. 

  Pheasant were first introduced in the state in 1908, and this game bird, one from China thrives in South Dakota’s diverse landscape with grasslands, croplands, wetlands and shelterbelts. The first season, held in 1919, that is a South Dakota tradition of pheasant hunting, bringing friends and families together in what is said to be a holiday like fashion.

  In 2018, the statewide pheasants-per-mile index indicted that in the 13 areas where pheasant counts were made all showed an increase in the number of pheasants per mile and on the average in these areas that there were 2.47 birds per mile, up from the 2017 count of 1.68.

  The daily limit for pheasants in South Dakota is 3 roosters per day, with a possession limit of 15 birds that a hunter may not be possess until after five days of hunting.

  Shooting hours for the first 7 days of the season is noon Central Time after that it is 10 a.m. central time to sunset the rest of the season.

  The big concern for South Dakota as well as other states is loss of upland habitat, with habitat being the key to preserving pheasant hunting for another century.

  All but a few areas of the state are open to pheasant hunting with the traditional pheasant season running from October 20, 2018 through January 6, 2019.

 Hunters out during the early part of the season can use lighter loads such as 6 shot, as the birds have not been pressured heavily.

  Later as the season progresses, after the birds have been hunted several weeks, they become wilder, flushing at long distances.  Later in the season it is a good idea to load your shotgun, those shells going into the tube with heavier 4 shot loads, for those longer backup shots and having 6 shot for your first round shot from your shotgun as there will still be some closer flushes.

 This is that time of the year when hunters like me are chomping at the bit, anxiously awaiting for the openers of numerous hunting seasons, both upland birds and big game.

  In addition, to have an opportunity to get out into the beautiful back country of South Dakota to spend time hunting and enjoying the beauty that Mother Nature has provided for us.