HURON, S.D. | The rooster boiled out of the milo strip right in front of me, gaining altitude with every wing beat.
I swung the shotgun out in front of him thinking, "He's awful close," and pulled the trigger.
A miss. That's what I get for thinking while shooting. I pumped the Benelli once again, tracked the bird and fired. He went down in a clump.
That surprised me. Sight picture said, "another miss."
But the bird lay in a heap in the open field, so I turned my attention to the walkers and took up the task of blocking once again.
Another rooster took flight and flew past our host Danny Hofer of Huron, S.D.
He dumped that bird with one shot and a black lab burst out of the milo strip in hot pursuit.
The dog could have taken his time. Hofer's bird wasn't making any moves. The dog grabbed the rooster and on the way back noticed mine. He ran to it as I turned my attention back to the field.
"Hey, Larry, you're bird is standing up," Gary Howey, Hartington, Neb., yelled.
I turned and sure enough my bird was up and running like he had never even been hit while the dog charged in on him. The big lab soon had him, and rushed toward his master carrying the much-alive rooster.
Another rooster took to the air on the other side of the field and dropped as a number of shots rang out.
This was our first walk on a hunt just southeast of the pheasant-rich Huron area.
One thing about South Dakota. You'll find the best pheasant hunters in the world out here. They are not running commercial operations. These are landowners who live and breathe pheasant hunting. They and their friends live for the pheasant season. They sacrifice crops for food plots and cover.
And it pays off. Big time. Gary and I have been fortunate enough to hunt with some of them over the years. South Dakota land and good habitat can combine to create pheasant hunting heaven.
That was proved once again on our two day hunt with Danny Hofer.
He has three plots of farmland within a few miles of each other. I forgot to ask how many acres, but they are not small.
"I devote about 25 percent of each farm to wildlife habitat," he said. "That would include tree belts planted during the dirty thirties and tree belts that I have planted, food plots and grass strips."
He rents out the rest of the land for normal farming procedures.
On one of the farms a remodeled old farm house can provide housing for 10 or more guests and a large metal building serves as a garage for the hunting bus which will hold 10 hunters easily as well as a type of clubhouse where hunters can gather around a kitchen table and eat bakery products or candy bars. A refrigerator holds soft drinks and water for after the hunt.
"No, this is not a commercial operation," Hofer said. "It's just for friends and relatives who want to come here to hunt.
"Everything here is geared for an average of eight to 10 hunters each outing," he continued. Our food plots, grass strips and shelter belts are sized to take that into account."
And some of those relatives come from several states away for their annual hunt. But most hunters are friends from the Huron area.
One of our fellow hunters on this trip was paging through a photo album on the table.
"This thing looks like a 'who's who' of Huron," he laughed.
There were eight of us hunting this day. We were joined by friends of Hofer's from Huron. They included Don Smith, Chuck Pyle, Vince Jager, Ron Wheeler and Steve Marcus.
Next, we walked a grass strip, but it was soon apparent that the pheasants weren't in the grass. Another milo strip produced a lot of birds.
Gary and I had arrived shortly after noon that day. We began hunting at about 1:30 and two-and-a-half hours later we had our limit of roosters.
That's an example of how many birds there were on the property.
"Our numbers are down somewhat because of the drought," Hofer said.
But what is really apparent is how well pheasants can do if they have adequate habitat.
"We're really lucky to have quite a bit of spring wheat," Hofer said. "That is excellent nesting cover. The hens prefer to nest there and it is much better nesting cover than grass. And the fields don't get harvested until after the broods have left."
Predators also have a hard time finding the nests in the large fields.
Skunks and coons are the major predators on nests, Hofer says. Coyotes are another predator common in the area, but Hofer doesn't think they are very successful in catching pheasants.
We saw several deer during our two-day hunt and jumped at least three coyotes.
And the deer can grow big here as the mounted whitetails in Hofer's office at the Huron Airport demonstrates. Hofer owns three buildings at the airport and leases them to several different individuals and businesses. He has retired from his aircraft charter business.
We began our hunt at 10 a.m. the next day. It was a repeat of the first. We were filled in two and a half hours.
While we were hunting private land, there is a lot of public land in the Huron area and around the state. There were two public hunting areas of about 800 acres each in the same area we were hunting.
Game, Fish and Parks produces an annual Hunting Atlas which lists all of the available public lands. While many of these areas get hunted hard early in the season, by late November the pressure is off, the crops have been harvested and birds from miles around have moved into this cover.
Also, when you are in Huron, don't miss the "World's Largest Pheasant." Erected in 1959 on the east side of town along Highway 14, the fiberglass sculpture of a rooster pheasant measures 20 feet tall and 40 feet long. It stands as a testament to Huron's claim of "Pheasant Capital of the World."
That boast, after our hunting experience in the area, will get no argument from Gary or me.