By "Terry" BombekeLike many hardcore wingshooters, I have a strong preference for wild birds, so when considering commercial pheasant hunting destinations, I look for two things. One is enough property that the impact of hunting pressure can be managed, allowing for “opening day” quality even later in the season. The second is variety, as I love to shoot sharp-tailed grouse and Hungarian partridge as much as I do pheasants, and the idea of bagging or even seeing one or two of these other species enhances the quality of a hunt exponentially. To date, I have found no destination that better meets my two criteria than Firesteel Creek Lodge, in Isabel, South Dakota.
Located in the northwestern part of the state, the Firesteel ranch is owned by the Lindskov family and sprawls for more than 100,000 acres (that’s 156 square miles). This is bigger than big, even by Western standards—big enough to accommodate 200 to 300 hunters over the course of a season without exerting excessive pressure on the birds. In fact, Firesteel’s manager of hunting operations, Mark Lindskov, is quick to point out that it’s not uncommon for parts of the ranch to make it through a season without ever being hunted.
I witnessed the benefits of such a large spread in November 2008 when I joined 16 Shooting Sportsman readers at Firesteel for a three-day hunt. Despite the fact that the season had opened a month earlier, we saw hundreds of pheasants each day and everyone had plenty of opportunities to bag limits of roosters. As a bonus, we saw hundreds of sharptails, with almost every member of the group bagging at least one and some taking as many as a half-dozen over the course of the hunt.
Just as impressive as the number of birds seen was the method by which the hunt was conducted. Instead of our group working as one large pushing-and-blocking unit, we were broken up into smaller sets of four to five hunters, each heading off to a different piece of cover with a guide and dogs—a combination of well-trained pointers and flushers. The result was a safer, more intimate situation that allowed each guide to personally handle his hunting party as a collection of individuals. According to Tom Dafnis, one of Firesteel’s senior guides, “Working smaller groups gives me a better feel of the pulse of a hunt. For example, it’s easier to notice if a particular hunter hasn’t been getting his share of shot opportunities, and I can then make it a priority to put more birds in front of him.”
The abundance of property at Firesteel offers a wide variety of habitat. Hunters can opt for the challenge of chasing birds across the horizon-stretching grasslands, through the brushy draws and coulees in the Grand River Breaks, or across the thousands of acres of less-rigorous food plots and hedgerows. The ranch also has several designated shooting preserves harboring denser concentrations of slightly tighter-holding birds.
The 5,000-square-foot ranch house sleeps 12 and contains the dining area and lounge. The quality furnishings and tasteful decor coalesce to produce an ambiance of comfort and congeniality. The spacious lounge includes a wide-screen satellite TV, a pool table and a well-stocked bar featuring cigars and a variety of single-malt Scotches. A new lodging facility adjacent to the ranch house can accommodate another 10 guests.
Above all, Firesteel Creek stands out as a bona fide family operation, with the Lindskovs obviously enjoying playing hosts. A random snapshot of the kitchen might show Mark and his mother, Marcia, carving thick rib-eye steaks for the evening meal. A shot of the lounge might show Les, the family patriarch, pouring a round of drinks. At all times there is heartfelt warmth and an obvious concern for guests’ comfort.
Pheasant season in South Dakota begins in mid-October, but those who wish to hunt early season sharptails and/or the preserve areas can do so in late September. Guests fly into Bismarck, North Dakota, from which shuttle service to the lodge can be arranged.
For more information, contact Mark Lindskov, 605-466-2452; www.firesteelcreeklodge.com.
Author’s Note: Firesteel Creek Lodge is not to be confused with the similarly named Firesteel Creek Hunting Lodge, which has no affiliation with the Lindskov family.