Kent Scott and his friends have travelled from Missouri and Kansas to South Dakota for nearly four decades for one purpose — pheasant hunting.
With more than 100,000 hunters flocking to South Dakota each pheasant season, Scott secures his lodging as far as a year in advance — but a last-minute cancellation by a Vrbo owner in Hand County left his group of 12 sportsmen with no place to stay.
“Throughout the year, through Vrbo, I contacted the owner and got no response. I reached out to her on four different occasions and got nothing,” Scott said. “About a week before hunting season, I was getting pretty concerned.”
Scott resorted to calling locals in an effort to get in touch with the property owner outside of Vrbo’s method of contact.
"It was really a two-and-a-half hour drive each way from Yankton up to Pukwana. We lost about five hours a day just windshield time."
- Kent Scott, pheasant hunter
With less than one week to the opener, the property owner informed Scott that the property had been double-booked. With some research online, he realized the property was listed for a significantly higher price on Airbnb.
“It was being rented out on Airbnb for several hundred dollars more than what we had booked it for,” Scott said. “We basically got aced out for dollars in my estimation.”
His group was now faced with two issues: getting a refund and finding a place to stay.
Vrbo’s policy allows a host to cancel a reservation at any time for almost any reason, but the host must initiate the cancellation for a refund to be disbursed.
“(A Vrbo representative) told me ‘Hey, we can’t cancel your reservation unless the owner cancels it,” Scott said.
In a group of a dozen men travelling with guns, ammunition and other equipment, Scott said hotels are simply “not an option,” especially since most are booked over a year in advance.
Vrbo returned Scott’s call with a list of potential properties that the company would cover the additional costs of — only two of which would work.
The group ended up opting for a property in Crofton, Nebraska, more than 150 miles away from the land they hunt on in Pukwana.
“It was really a two-and-a-half hour drive each way from Yankton up to Pukwana. We lost about five hours a day just windshield time,” Scott said. “It was quite an ordeal.”
Though the location of their new lodging situation wasn’t ideal, Scott and his friends were still able to enjoy their trip and the hunting the state offers.
“We’re sporting hunters. We hunt wild birds, but we go up for the camaraderie first, and the hunting second,” Scott said. “This is a bunch of guys that see each other once a year. We throw on a steak, drink a beer and catch up.”
Across the five days the men were hunting, they came “pretty darn close” to their 36 bird non-resident limit.
“Hunting was pretty good this year. It was a little warm, but we came pretty darn close to limiting out.” Scott said. “We had a good time and everybody really enjoyed themselves.”
Scott plans to return next year with his group of guys, as he’s already booked a place to stay in Chamberlain, which is currently debating the prohibition of new short-term rental properties like Vrbo and Airbnb in certain residential zones.
Though he’s aware that his rental would not be affected by the potential ordinance, he believes the proposed ordinance, as written, sends the wrong message to hunters.
“Chamberlain is supposedly the pheasant capital of the world. The way I’m seeing this is that you’re telling hunters you’re closed for business,” Scott said.
The Chamberlain City Commission signaled that they are open to the idea of allowing an exemption for popular dates such as the annual pheasant opener, but did not include the change in the passage of the ordinance’s first reading.
“(South Dakota is) a great state with a lot of great people. When we come up there, everything’s pretty seamless,” Scott said. “We just don’t want it to happen again. We love coming up there.”
This year’s pheasant season runs until Jan. 31, while next year’s traditional season opens on Oct. 15, 2022.