For 38 consecutive years, Doug Duitman and Kent Botsford have traveled 517 miles from their Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, home to hunt the fields of South Dakota for pheasants.
With the traditional pheasant hunting season nearing its end, Duitman and Botsford noted some advantages of hunting toward the end of the season and made sure to get their hunting fix before the season officially concludes Jan. 6, 2019.
"The birds are concentrated and it makes for a good hunt, and we saw a lot of birds today," Botsford said.
Despite a brisk Saturday with temperatures fluctuating in the high teens, Duitman and Botsford battled the cold and snow covered fields, as they shot down their limit of three pheasants each by the end of the hunt.
"We were hoping for a little nicer weather when we scheduled our hunt," Duitman said with a big laugh. "I had five days left on my license, so Kent and I had to come back before the season wraps up."
Wading through snow-covered fields can create challenges while pheasant hunting, but Duitman said he's able to spot birds better with a fresh coat of snow on the fields.
While some pheasant hunters prefer hunting earlier in the season, Botsford said hunting toward the end of the season has its advantages as well.
The heavy concentration of pheasants toward the end of the hunting season is something Harvard, Illinois native Lee Frick has capitalized on for the past 10 years.
"They're always nice and grouped up, so if you can get to the cover and get some birds, you can have some good action at the end of the season," Frick said.
Frick's son, Erick, joined his dad this year to hunt pheasants, and he said he was leaving the state a happy hunter.
"The pheasant hunting is always great, and the end of the year is no exception," Erick Frick said.
According to the GF&P's website, there are 4.8 pheasants per-mile in the Mitchell area this year. And prior to the start of this year's pheasant hunting season, the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks pheasant brood survey showed a 47 percent increase over last year.
"To see as many birds as we did this late in the season goes to show there are more pheasants this year," Duitman added.
Although pheasant hunting has brought Duitman and Botsford to South Dakota for nearly 40 years, the friends they've made in the process are another reason they continue to keep their tradition of pheasant hunting on the plains alive.
"It's as much about getting to hang out with the friends we've got to know over the years," Botsford said. "It's not just about the birds."