Pheasant hunting approaches

Brookings County Now & Then

The Centennial Year of pheasant hunting in South Dakota takes flight in a little over a week. 

Reports are showing a nearly 50 percent increase in birds. Visitors from throughout the nation will be arriving soon to take a crack at them on Oct. 20. 

I was privileged to attend ceremonies a few weeks ago south of Iroquois where friends and family gathered to dedicate the Bob Roe Game Production Area. I was impressed with the camaraderie among Bob’s hunting friends who were there. 

Hunters have a very special bond, and that relationship reminded me of a couple of other good guys I knew.

John Switzer, who wrote a weekly column for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, won’t be among Brookings County hunters this time around. He died May 15.

His frequent hunting host, Brookings native Jim Grommersch, won’t be on the hunt this year either. He died in January. 

John was among a group of St. Louis area hunters who spent quality time with Jim and Kitty Grommersch at their Brookings farm north of Brookings.

They stayed in an apartment in the Grommersch machine shed, the same austere apartment where Kitty (originally from New Orleans) and Jim lived until their beautiful new home was built following Jim’s retirement as the assistant general manager of the Ford Tractor Division.

Outdoor writer Switzer loved those South Dakota outings. Here’s what he told his St. Louis area readers:

 “You wouldn’t head for the Great Plains of South Dakota in October to see fall foliage because you have to look long and hard to find a tree there.

 “As far as the eye can see, the county is mostly prairie conservation grassland, corn and soybean fields and grass sloughs. 

“Most of the trees are in shelter belts planted on homesteads. The winds blow hard and constant across the rolling prairie. I went there with some pheasant hunters from Columbus. I wanted to see pheasants in the numbers I remember from my youth in Fostoria (Ohio).

“When I saw the rolling prairie of South Dakota, I remembered ‘Dances With Wolves.’ The only difference is that much of the ground around Brookings has been broken by plow.

“Because of a few mild winters in a row, pheasants are plentiful in eastern South Dakota. We probably saw 100 pheasants most days and maybe 150 on our best day.

“Seeing a rooster rocket across the blue sky aided by 30 mph prairie winds is a sight to behold – something I’ll never forget.

“The birds draw a lot of attention. Every year more and more out-of-state hunters aid the economy of South Dakota.

“In South Dakota, farmers plant lots of land in big, bluestem grass, Indian grass and switch grass for pheasant cover. Those prairie grasses were there before the plow.

“In our house at the Grommerschs’ there was a farmer’s barn with a bunkhouse built in one corner. The place was heated by a potbelly stove, but we experienced record heat. 

“The locals said they couldn’t remember that kind of warmth in October. Before long, blizzards will sweep across the prairies.

“It did get cool in the evenings, though, and the stove felt good. Sitting around a potbelly stove, drinking a brew and sharing tall tales with buddies while petting a hunting dog is about as good as it gets.

“We had a meal of pheasant cooked in cream of mushroom soup at a home of one of our hunt leaders, a survivor of Pearl Harbor. Those South Dakotans are a hardy lot.”

This year, I’ll miss Switzer’s South Dakota hunting report, and Jim Grommersch’s broad smile.

And I’ll also miss Bob Roe’s vivid and entertaining accounts of hunting in the Iroquois area he developed that now benefits us all.

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