Redfield celebrated the 100th anniversary of South Dakota’s first official pheasant hunt with a big party last week. Hundreds of men and women marched the cornfields of Spink County and then gathered for a prime rib dinner and some wonderful storytelling. The festive event prompted us to remember some of our favorite pheasant tales from the last 35 years of publishing South Dakota Magazine.
Madison wildlife artist John Green once told us the story of when he went afield with some out-of-state sportsmen who had only seen jackalopes in pictures and gift shops. As they neared the end of a corn row, a jackrabbit with tall ears — but, needless to say, no antlers — jumped from the corn and hopped away. One of the hunters yelled out, “Don’t shoot! It’s a doe!”
Lots of famous people have come to South Dakota to hunt pheasants. That makes for some interesting conversations, especially for the Zoss family. Adolf Zoss was hunting near Letcher in 1945 when an old Ford came down a dirt road. It was Lawrence Welk, the famous champagne music man, with members of his band. Welk asked Adolf if he knew where there might be birds, and the South Dakotan gladly guided them to several of his favorite spots.
Zoss couldn’t wait to tell his wife, Amelia, but unfortunately neither she or any of their 11 children believed him because he was known for telling stories.
As Welk gained greater fame and a national TV audience, Zoss told and retold the story to his doubting family until he died in 1957.
Imagine his survivors’ surprise, however, when an issue of Lawrence Welk Magazine was published in 1968 with stories about Welk’s days in the Dakotas and a picture and story about a successful pheasant hunt. There on page 56 was a photo of Welk with a shotgun, and sitting in the old Ford were his band members and a slightly bemused Adolf Zoss. No doubt they all had a “wunnerful” time.
The Brooklyn Dodgers came to Winner to hunt pheasants in the 1930s. After quickly limiting on birds, the players were looking for more to do so the hotel manager suggested they talk to David Busk, who told them about rattlesnake hunting. Busk was known for eradicating more than 3,000 rattlesnakes to protect local children. He took the ballplayers to the White River valley where they caught and killed quite a few snakes. The players came back for several years to help Busk in his mission, giving double meaning to the old Dodger saying, “Wait ’til next year!”
Peggy Schiedel of Yankton remembers meeting Cary Grant when he came to their Faulkton farm to hunt. He was a friend of her uncle, who was a Navy captain in California. “My brothers and I slept in the mudroom so our guests could have our bedrooms, but we were still thrilled to have them because they brought boxes of La Fama Candy.” She says Grant taught them how to walk on stilts, and he showed her dad how to build them.
Monte James, a South Dakota farm broadcaster on the Ag Network, once guided some Coca Cola executives from Atlanta on a hunt near Vivian. Despite their enthusiasm, the Southerners couldn’t hit the proverbial barn. But they were determined to get some birds. Finally, James and his dog Ice Cream flushed some pheasants in some very high grass and the hunters emptied their shotguns to no avail. But James hollered, “You knocked a couple down!”
Then he and Ice Cream disappeared into the brush to look for the birds. He stealthily pulled a few birds from his own pouch. He sent one with Ice Cream and he carried the other himself. The hunters were giddy with excitement and left James a big tip, which he used in part to buy Ice Cream a buffalo ribeye.
Out-of-state hunters do, unfortunately, become the inspiration for some of our pheasant humor but they probably don’t mind — at least not any more than we mind the joke about the South Dakota cowboy who traveled to Kansas to see the Statue of Liberty.
These past 100 pheasant hunting seasons have been all about having a fun time and turning strangers into friends. Here’s to another 100 years, humor and all.
Katie Hunhoff is editor and publisher of South Dakota Magazine, a bi-monthly print publication featuring the people and places of our state. For more information visit www.southdakotamagazine.com.