This fall I had the privilege of participating in my first South Dakota pheasant hunt. I was fortunate enough to spend two-extended weekends surrounded by cattails, prairie and good company.

South Dakota Pheasants

At one time it was a rallying point, a restaurant built with the support of the small farming community.  As the restaurant sat empty, most people passed it with complete disregard, not even knowing what it was. Chalk it up to another business that couldn’t survive the recession in a small rural town but to one group of hunters they saw much more. They saw the potential to turn the building into a weekend retreat, surrounded by the best pheasant hunting in the country.

The building that now holds The Cock Dice Lodge originally started as a community restaurant. When the recession hit, the restaurant was unable to survive. It stayed vacant for a number of years until a group of pheasant hunters who frequented the area noticed the building. Tired of staying in hotels and the inconveniences they offered when trying to hunt every weekend, they tried to purchase the building on numerous occasions. At first, the community was unwilling to part ways with the building because of the hope that one day it would become a supper club once again. A few years past and the prospect of the restaurant resurfacing were scoured; an offer was finally accepted from the group of pheasant hunters.

The group of pheasant hunters was comprised of friends who had been hunting together for decades. Some had been coming to the area for 25+ years and finally had a spot they could call their own. With a small investment, they were able modify the restaurant into a hunting lodge. Complete with: two bathrooms and showers, bunk beds for visitors, private bedrooms for the owners, living room area and an industrial sized kitchen; the lodge is set up to cater to one group of people – hunters.

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The smell of bacon fills the air and wakes everyone up in the morning. Large breakfasts are the customary way to start the day. When the hangovers have ceased, it is time to go hunting. An army of orange takes to the fields in search of the wily late season roosters. The blaze orange sticks out against the white snow, but quickly disappears amongst the tall cattails as the group slowly covers ground. The owners come equipped with well seasoned dogs who know the routine; Boykin’s, Munstmerlander’s, and Labs lead their owners through the terrain in search of birds. The action is quick and so are the guns. Some roosters have been through all this all season and flush from a long range; posters make sure that they take advantage of these opportunities. Others, give the working dogs and their masters the opportunity to perfectly execute what they have trained so hard for. The culmination of all factors working against a hunter results in the perfect perfect point/flush. From nowhere a colorful rooster rises; the heart rate quickens with the pace of the beating wings – a connection between the hunter and his prey.  A well placed shot and retrieve  makes any hunter stop and smile as they realize the beauty that just took place.  The feeling is something that does not get old. After hunting a number of spots, a limit of South Dakota roosters is reached. The dogs are tired from the terrain that was covered and they wouldn’t have it any other way. The pile of birds is testament to a hard days worth of hunting as each bird tells a different story. Taking the time look at the beauty that each bird possesses, gives you a greater appreciation for what took place earlier in the day. 

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After the birds are cleaned the dice come out. Dice are the common currency at the lodge and surrounding businesses. The “winner” is usually the biggest loser in the group and has to pay for what ever was determined before the game started. Much like the hunting, at the end of the night, everyone comes out ahead. Cock Dice Lodge still serves as a rallying point. Although it is not a restaurant, it is a place where people come together for the camaraderie and hunting, all while still supporting the local community. 

When the weekend is over, it is tough to go home. The dogs proudly wear their discomforts for all to see as they are worn out from the work that they live for. Even when looking so rough I know that they are satisfied. The welcoming nature of our hosts and world class hunting is something that I wish I could participate in every weekend. Instead, it will have to become a note on a calendar, in a distant month, next season. I and the others will have to patiently wait until I get another opportunity to visit South Dakota, and Cock Dice Lodge.

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