Pheasant season got off to an official but sunny start on Thursday at the Pierre Regional Airport as a jet plane stuffed with hunters from elsewhere met up with civic pride and hospitality from here.

Lois Ries, director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau at the Pierre Area Chamber of Commerce, led a team that met the 1:30 p.m. SkyWest/United flight from Denver. “We will be here again for the flight arriving at 10:30 tonight and we will do the same thing on Friday,” Ries said. “We had a great response. All the hunters were very receptive.”

Russ Greer, who flew in from Florida, via Denver, was one of them.

“It was packed,” said Russ Greer of the 50-passenger jet that came in from Denver. “They overbooked and had to pay one guy $1,500 to stay in Denver.”

Ries and a crew from the Chamber were busy at their table in the terminal handing out cookies, t-shirts, shot glasses and insulated can covers, or “koozies.”

Even lip balm.

Andrew Howard, just in from Greenville, South Carolina, eagerly accepted the gift of balm from greeters.

“I left mine at home,” Howard told them. “You’re awesome.”

It was a mostly one-gendered commercial flight from Denver on Thursday afternoon that landed in Pierre.

“I heard one woman — she was coming home, she lives in Pierre — say ‘I felt like I was in a man-cave,’” Ries said with a laugh.

Ries said that Pierre and Fort Pierre have 800 hotel rooms and she hopes they will be filled up for pheasant season.

Many of those arriving Thursday are headed for hunting lodges in the region where they will stay for several days.

Greer came with a group of 12 men from Winter Park, Florida.

He and a couple others had hunted here last year and stayed at the Tumbleweed Lodge near Harrold and liked it.

“So this year I brought a couple business partners and they brought their sons,” he said.

The Tumbleweed Lodge is sponsored by Orvis sporting goods stores, which is a kind of good hunter-keeper seal of approval, according to Greer. “So you know what you’re getting.”

Sean Finley, general manager and head chef at the Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge 22 miles north of Pierre on Lake Oahe, was at the airport early to meet a dozen clients from Texas, most of them affiliated with Texas Tech University in Lubbock, his alma mater.

Most hunters stay for three or four days at Cheyenne Ridge, buying packages that cost $4,175 or $5,200 per hunter. Unlike some lodges, that package includes 20 pheasants a day from the lodge’s preserve, Finley said. “We are all-inclusive.”

Of course, the opener means busy times at guns and ammo shops that also sell hunting licenses.

Brent Adams, who mans the firearms area in the back of Runnings, is ready. From Iowa, Adams has been in Pierre for 21 years and said Thursday that the fun for the weekend was only beginning.

“We went through about 200 licenses already,” Adams said. “But it’s just starting. Lots of folks are waiting ‘till their other folks get here to come in.”

Across town at Lynn’s Dakotamart on Sioux Avenue in Pierre, there is a similar scene downstairs in the sporting goods department.

Marlin Fallon, originally from Sturgis and in Pierre for 15 years, said he couldn’t keep count of the ringneck-related business.

“I’ve been busy all day with the pheasant licenses. This weekend will be really busy though.”

The world-class pheasant hunting around Pierre and Fort Pierre brings in celebrities and big hitters, Adams said.

He’s seen Dallas Cowboys fly into Pierre to hunt here.

Retired Green Bay Packers legend Brett Favre has been here, too.

“It’s really great for the economy here in Pierre,” Adams said. “Go to the airport and see all the Learjets parked there. It’s really pretty neat.”

Chris Oliver, and his 4-year-old black Lab service dog, Jake, have been coming to Pierre from Texas for four years to hunt the pheasant opener. Oliver started hunting here 10 years ago, he said. He and Jake picked up his guns and other equipment and went over to Mustang Aviation near the terminal to meet friends who flew in on a private jet.

John Stalcup flew in from Alabama, greeted in the terminal by his brothers Tom and Tyler and two other men from Gillette, Wyoming.

Tyler Stalcup held up a cardboard sign saying “Alabama sucks,” so John knew where to go.

They laughed and high-fived.

“This will be my eighteenth year,” Tom Stalcup said. “I’ve come out every year for opening.”

Spirits were high all over town, maybe, not counting the pheasants.

With his lip balm plus all else he carried with him, Howard was ready.

“I love everything here. The people. The scenery. The hunting. Everything. There is nothing bad.”

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