ABERDEEN, South Dakota - Cattail stalks slapped our ears and grabbed our boots, adding a physical challenge as we hiked and hunted in the prairie pothole region of South Dakota.
But the greatest test at the moment was visual.
As our group pushed through the center of a dense slough, winged forms boiled skyward from the eastern edge.
"Look at that," said Anthony Hauck of Lino Lakes, Minnesota, as we stopped to admire the sight well out of shotgun range. "Got a few in here, don't you think?"
As we continued the crunchy march, more waves took flight.
Flap, flap, flap, flap, then glide, glide and flap some more into the distance.
The difficulty for my Wisconsin eyes was accepting that the birds were in fact the object of our quest: ring-necked pheasants.
A flight of several dozen, perhaps even 100, birds from a field elsewhere in the Midwest would have had to be a different species. Red-winged blackbirds, for one.
But we weren't just anywhere. We were in the pheasant capital of the world.
Last week I joined a group for two days of pheasant hunting near Aberdeen.
The group included: Hauck, director of public relations for Pheasants Forever; Tom Hanson of Orvis; John Kruse of Northwest Outdoors Radio; Andrew McKean of Outdoor Life and Powderhook; Matt Soberg, editor of Ruffed Grouse Society magazine and a freelancer for Project Upland and Covey Rise Magazine; and Jared Wiklund, public relations specialist for Pheasants Forever.
Our timing was notable, too.