A busy time for birds flying into Mitchell: Airport readies for pheasant season
There are roughly 30 rental cars and vans awaiting visitors. And a large orange "Welcome Hunters" sign gives a hint of what time of year it is. The employees at the Mitchell Municipal Airport treat October as if it's business as usual. But withou...
There are roughly 30 rental cars and vans awaiting visitors.
And a large orange "Welcome Hunters" sign gives a hint of what time of year it is.
The employees at the Mitchell Municipal Airport treat October as if it's business as usual. But without question, the bird-themed buzz on the north end of town goes hand-in-hand with South Dakota's pheasant hunting pastime, which opens statewide Saturday.
"We really don't try to change what we do too much," Mitchell Airport Manager Mike Scherschligt said. "We really try to keep working on the facilities throughout the year and have our projects finished by this time each year, so that we're ready. But for the most part, we try to treat it like any other day."
But the numbers show Scherschligt is being a little modest. From 2014 to 2016, Mitchell averaged 3,123 individuals coming through the airport in the final three months of the year - October, November and December. The three months have accounted for at least 46 percent of the airport's travelers in each of those three years, according to the year-end report filed with the city of Mitchell. The figure was 50.1 percent in 2015, and 49 percent in 2016. (Figures from 2017 weren't available for this story.)
In that three-year span from 2014 to 2016, the airport operations - which counts aircraft flying in and flying out as one item - averaged 804 operations between October and December.
"It's certainly something that people get excited for, because we know that pheasant hunting is a big deal around here," said Scherschligt, who has worked at the airport for more than 20 years. "I think for the people in the area that are in the pheasant business and the lodges, it's good that we are able to have an airport like this."
Garrett Bordson, a guide for Thunderstick Lodge near Chamberlain, was waiting with his business' vehicle and trailer at the airport gate Wednesday. He said the Mitchell airport is important to his business because it cuts down on the need for trips to Sioux Falls to pick up guests.
"It just makes everything a little easier," he said. "Hunting is big around here and this is a good airport for us to have. ... Without hunting, I don't have the job that I do."
And the airport is in a bit of a sweet spot. With no commercial flights, the airport is free to serve private planes and small jets, but still boasts big runways, dating back to its time as an air base constructed during World War II. The longest runway of 6,700 feet is partnered with a second runway option of 5,500 feet.
"There's a lot of room out there to land pretty much anything," said Scherschligt, adding the airport accommodates pilots and aircraft from all over the country. On Wednesday afternoon alone, the airport was scheduled to receive flights from Rapid City, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, suburban Chicago and Williston, North Dakota, according to Flightaware.com.
The flights are organized through the airport's service provider, Wright Brothers Aviation, which has been in operation since 1984. They handle the needs of those flying in and out of the airport, such as hangar space, fueling and maintenance.
Scherschligt said he believes the pheasant brood count - taken each August and issued by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks as an outlook for the season - might have an impact on how busy the airport gets. On a personal level, Scherschligt closely watches the weather, hoping snow holds off as long as possible.
"I'm sure there's some hunters that are watching closely and want to map out where the pheasants are going to be," he said. "But we also know there's guys that are going to come out here regardless, because this is what they do."