OLIVET, S.D. (AP) — Don Bierle fondly remembers working at the request of his son, Steve, to convert part of his father-in-law’s farmland into a wildlife habitat. Steve specialized in wildlife management and convinced his grandfather to let go of a few acres of crops in the interest of biodiversity.
These pieces of land became fertile hunting ground after planting native grasses, trees and other elements of a healthy habitat. The tradition of pheasant hunting with the Bierle family began.
In 2015, Steve drowned while saving his son from a strong current in the Pacific Ocean. Tradition changed after his death, and now family and friends gather to celebrate his memory while hunting on the land Steve created, the Argus Leader reported.
“You know old-time farmers, they don’t give up land easy, it’s for crops, but he persuaded him,” said Bierle. “We’re enjoying the fruit of Steve’s labor even though he’s not here anymore.”
John Pollmann, Steve’s best friend, said he feels blessed to come to such a special place year after year. Instead of the simple thrill of bagging pheasants, his experience is more layered.
“As I’ve gotten older I think it’s become more about the experience of being out here,” said Pollmann. “I mean, I love pulling the trigger. Steve and I always joked around about who could shoot faster. But now it’s gone past that for me.”
Pollmann has switched to shooting with a 16-gauge shotgun instead of the more typical 12-gauge because it was Steve’s firearm of choice. He considers it his own “nod” to his friend’s legacy.
Last year, heavy flooding got in the way of a quality pheasant hunt. Bierle said the property was entirely underwater. They even used it for duck hunting. For the upcoming season, his expectation in a word? “Positive.”
“We heard there was a bit of an increase in the pheasant population,” he said. “It’s fun to get out here and see if it’s producing.”
In the middle of the first day of hunting, it was still hard to tell just how successful the season would be. Nearby fields with unharvested crops give the pheasants more places to hide until they come out to roost in the evening. In under three hours, Bierle and Pollmann’s hunting group collected a total of seven birds.
“Overall, I’m happy, and it’ll get better as the season progresses,” said Pollmann.