Rosebud Indian Reservation Upland Bird Hunting Reportby Scott Winston
South central South Dakota is one of a few places where two species of prairie grouse, prairie chickens and shaptail grouse, overlap in their range. Rivers like the Missouri and the White carve through the prairie breaking up the monotony of the country and provide ideal habitat for these two prairie grouse species.
While excellent populations of sharptail grouse occur across this region, only isolated pockets of prairie chickens remain. Prairie chickens tend to prefer flatter ground in moderate hunting terrain with short grass and sharptails prefer hillier and more rugged terrain for moderate to difficult hunting, again in fairly short grass. Many wing shooters consider both of these upland prairie grouse to be very challenging. However, given the limited numbers of prairie chickens and the difficulty of bringing them to bag, especially the mature males or “boomers” these indigenous game birds are considered to be trophy birds.
Mac with a mixed bag - chickens, sharptails and wild roosters.
Photo by: Author
Prairie Grouse Haven is one of those places where very strong numbers of both of prairie chickens and sharptail grouse are found. The steady increase in grouse numbers in this area over the past few years offers a hunt with a primary focus on prairie grouse. There are 12,000 private acres of outstanding grouse and pheasant country right around the lodge which is located near the town of Carter, South Dakota in Tripp County. This area is considered the eastern edge of the Rosebud Indian Reservation and lies just south of the White River. The “Res” as the locals call the Rosebud, encompasses 1.8 million acres of grouse country. A Native American guide and a tribal license are required to hunt the “Res”. Tribal law is different than state law regarding hunting. For example, all game birds can be hunted from dawn until dusk on the Reservation. Secondly, non-resident small game hunters in South Dakota are allowed only two five-day hunts in the state. However, while hunting on the “Res” there are no such limitations for non-residents. Thirdly, a Native American guide provides access the entire Reservation. Finally, the pheasant season on the “Res” opens before the statewide pheasant opener in mid October. These options offer the traveling wing shooter some flexibility in scheduling, especially for those traveling to this region to hunt with multiple outfitters over the course of several weeks. All wild, the game bird variety in this area is outstanding. Besides prairie chickens, sharptail grouse and wild roosters, the doves linger here in September and the snipe migrate through at the end of October.
Chance Colome, a Native American guide working with Prairie Grouse Haven says “Grouse hunting on the Rosebud is virtually untapped”. Hunt host Scott Winston is an avid prairie grouse hunter and has intimate knowledge of both prairie chicken and sharptail grouse habitat and their behaviors. Most important, at Prairie Grouse Haven, they know when and where to find the birds. Early in the season, mid September to mid October and before the state wide pheasant season opens, prairie grouse can still be found in family groups with many inexperienced adolescent birds. Cold weather and hunting pressure have not yet forced them into larger coveys and they are more spread out over the prairie. While early season conditions can be warm, it is easier, at this time, to locate birds and get flushes that are close in. It is not uncommon within this first month of the season to limit out daily with any combination of three prairie grouse. Prairie chickens are spooky early and late in the day as they are feeding and alert. By 10 AM, they settle down and loaf in native grass making them easier to approach within shotgun range. Prairie Grouse Haven takes hunters out into sharptail country or to a dove strong hold early in the morning and late in the afternoon.
Photo by: Author