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Hunters wing into Pierre for pheasant opener

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Sometimes it’s the small things, the light touches, that make the difference, maybe.

It’s pheasants, of course, that bring thousands of people to central South Dakota this time every fall for the biggest ringneck rooster hunt of any state.

So Kip Pedrie and Mark Karas knew their way off the SkyWest/United Express flight from Denver on Friday afternoon, hours before pheasant season opens Saturday. The Denver-area men have been coming here for years to join 15 or more others at Bob’s Resort, west of Gettysburg on Lake Oahe, the dammed Missouri River.

“We’re hunting here until Wednesday,” Pedrie said.

“They’ve got about 4,000 acres we can hunt,” Karas said.

They moved over to wait for their baggage, including the long hard-plastic cases for their shotguns.

Pedrie said his is nothing fancy: “An old Browning automatic ultra-light; 12-gauge.”

Something else seemed more impressive to him at the moment late Friday afternoon at the Pierre Regional Airport as he was walking out, pestered by a reporter.

“What you should take a photograph of is this,” Pedrie said. “Our rental car. I love this.”

It was a shiny red Toyota Tundra pickup and as he started stowing his stuff in it, Pedrie said: “We asked where it was. ‘Oh, it’s parked right out front.’ How about the keys? ‘The keys are in the ignition,’” Pedrie recited, with a smile of disbelief. “I love it!”

Denver, of course, famously has a huge airport a huge distance from the city and rental car companies don’t leave vehicles parked right outside the terminal exits with the keys in the ignition.

Once on the ground, hunters were hitting stores to stock up on ammo and licenses, for pheasants and fish.

“Real close to the same as last year,” said Harley Van Houten of Lynn’s Dakotamart sporting goods in downtown Pierre. “We’ve about doubled our workers from what we normally have: a typical Friday and Saturday before pheasant season. This year the influx is tonight (Friday), rather than tomorrow (Saturday), because of the 10 a.m. opening time. Even though the Game, Fish and Parks advertised it, lots of out-of-state hunters don’t know for sure and are calling in checking.”

Van Houten said more out-of-state hunters also are buying fishing licenses this year.

“A lot of other states have such strict COVID rules; the people are wanting to get out of town and do stuff. I think there’s been an increase, more hunters coming through, even just today.

It was something similar at the Runnings Store on the northeast side of Pierre.

“We’ve already sold a big case of hunting caps since just this morning,” said Dean Vincent, working behind the counter in the sporting goods part of the store. “We’ve sold a lot more fishing licenses, too, to many of the out-of-staters. I’m guessing because a lot of states, such as Minnesota, closed down their docks. They started coming to South Dakota and buying fishing licenses, and kept coming. They say the fishing has been pretty good, too.”

Along with a lot of hunters, Gov. Kristi Noem made her way off the flight from Denver on Friday afternoon. She was with aides and consultants, it seemed, not intent on pheasants or hunters.

She had spent Thursday campaigning for President Trump in New Hampshire, according to news reports.

On Friday, she seemed intent on getting out of the unusually crowded airport terminal. Noem didn’t stop to chat with U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who was at the airport for a gala gallery opening that includes honoring his father’s World War II military service as a pilot.

Noem said she had been working and was returning to Pierre and was making her way out of the airport. But she said she hopes to get in some hunting at some point during the season, which lasts until Jan. 31.

Noem released a statement Friday on the big deal that is pheasant opener the third weekend in October when, “South Dakota comes alive with hunters looking to enjoy the very best pheasant hunting in the world. The pheasant is South Dakota’s state bird (as far as I know, we’re the only state that shoots our state bird) and blaze orange may as well be our state color.”

“Dad took us big-game hunting growing up, but it was my Grandma Dorris who inspired me to love bird hunting,” Noem said. “She showed me how pheasant hunters work as a team. She taught me about the tremendous work the dogs do – flushing the birds, finding and bringing them back after they’ve been shot – all with a smile on their face. And Bryon and I did the same for our kids – all great hunters as well.”

“Visitors from around the country and across the world come to shoot pheasants in our great state, spending more than $175 million annually and supporting roughly 18,000 South Dakota jobs. This year, as South Dakota is increasingly in the national spotlight due to how we’ve responded to the pandemic, we can expect many visitors to come shoot our state bird with us.”

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