Types of cover

mikeP

New member
All really good information, and encouraging to those of us without a dog. Having never been to South Dakota how would one go about finding these gravel roads prior to getting there, and how do you know which are legal to hunt? Can you identify them on satellite maps or are they designated a certain way on a regular map? Sorry for what may seem like ridiculous questions but, being from Illinois road hunting is an unknown.

Thanks again,
Mike.
 

dakotasj

Active member
All really good information, and encouraging to those of us without a dog. Having never been to South Dakota how would one go about finding these gravel roads prior to getting there, and how do you know which are legal to hunt? Can you identify them on satellite maps or are they designated a certain way on a regular map? Sorry for what may seem like ridiculous questions but, being from Illinois road hunting is an unknown.

Thanks again,
Mike.
Request the sdgfp hunting guide or look on the SD website. It clearly defines what's legal to hunt in regards to roads and ditches. Lots of what I call section lines are roads that may be pretty rough and grown up. Like Pete and GH said, it can be productive hunting, open to anyone, especially if there is a food source nearby. Next you have to drive around as the cover can change from year to year. Sometimes section lines are mowed.
 

sjohn

Member
Tracking a down bird without a dog is/can be difficult but not impossible. However, I can still remember the very last bird I shot while I still lived in PA. There were very few birds remaining in my area but I had a farm I could walk to from the house that held a few. I had just walked a small (40 x 150 yards) standing corn patch surrounded by mature hard woods. Got to the end and then walked the woods line to where a gas line cut over the rocky ridge that separated the small corn patches from the much larger 100 ac field. The gas line right of way was chocked with blackberry patches over your head with a few fallen trees overgrown with vines. Out of the mess rises a beautiful rooster, they are all beautiful especially when you only flush maybe a dozen the entire 4 week season. Hunting with my 1976 Remington 870 Wingmaster, which I got on my 13th birthday, I knocked him down hard. I was expecting to walk over and pick him up but he was not there. I searched and searched to no avail. I never found that bird but in my mind I can still see the spot he rose, the spot he fell and what that gas line looked like. If I knew what I know now over 40 years later, I may have been able to find that bird. However, if I had found that bird, most likely I would not be telling this story as I probably would not have remember the kill. Unfortunately it was not long after that hunt, the property was sold as there was no one left in the family to continue the farming legacy. That was one of the last farms in the area I could walk to from my house. Condos and business parks now inhabit that entire property but I'll never forget the way it was and the hours and hours I spent by myself without a dog chasing PA roosters. Usually all I brought home were rabbits but that was good in itself. Thank you for the opportunity to remember that story and relive it. The best to all of you, with or without a dog. Just get out there and make memories. john
 

Golden Hour

Well-known member
All really good information, and encouraging to those of us without a dog. Having never been to South Dakota how would one go about finding these gravel roads prior to getting there, and how do you know which are legal to hunt? Can you identify them on satellite maps or are they designated a certain way on a regular map? Sorry for what may seem like ridiculous questions but, being from Illinois road hunting is an unknown.

Thanks again,
Mike.

All public rights of way are open to hunting, save the Interstates. You cannot be within 200 yards of livestock, church or homes.

Page 38 in the handbook details hunting rights of ways in detail - https://www.flipsnack.com/SDGamefishparks/2020-south-dakota-hunting-handbook.html
 

A5 Sweet 16

Well-known member

PeteRevvv

Active member
Some official designations and whether they are rights of way for public hunters-

Interstate-no.
US Hwy- no.
County Hwy- yes (even the paved ones)
Roads- yes. Hard to believe but true that any public roads but the Interstate/US ones above are open to hunting. These are the gravel roads and section lines I am referring to. Google maps is really pretty accurate even out in the middle of nowhere and will designate a road which is just a track through a fields but still public right of way. Also state law requires them to have street sign markers which helps a lot.
Driveways- no. Farms sometimes have really long gravel driveways that are hard to tell from a road. Good indications are lack of a stop sign, no green street sign designation or if there is a mailbox which are only at the end of driveways. Power lines with cross-beams are also an indication of public road. If you do end up down a driveway while scouting, just turn around and drive out.

Roads are on a square grid, one every half mile. If you were to turn off a paved hwy, in half a mile would typically be cross road that is a two-rut grass track going into the fields (section line) and then in a mile would be a well defined gravel road with deep ditches and culverts. Repeats in that pattern until you run into a waterway or sometimes large grazing lands that might not have a cross road for 2-5 miles. Birds and beef don't mix well since there are no crops to eat so if you end up in flat, cattle-mowed grass, turn around.

Both the gravel roads and sections lines would be marked with a green street sign like you would find on a city street. Gravel roads are easy to deal with and probably better hunting with gravel picking being an attractant to the birds. The section line roads are maintained by the county at the request of the farmer so they are only built up enough to get tractors in and out. Some of the section lines are marked "minimum maintenance" and that's a sure sign these are too rough to be any fun to drive, likely don't go through on the other end so you are backtracking over already hunted spots and the gravel has long since disappeared so not likely to hold many birds.

Farmers can opt to take out the section line road and reclaim that land for farming but then it is up to them to fence, gate or post it as private. Farmers may ask the county not to maintain the section line all the way through so quite a few peter out into just field grass or you run into a fence line- Google is pretty accurate about mapping that status but it can change year to year. I believe farmers do pay an easement for this county service so they only put in what they need for getting equipment to their fields. The farmer is depending on this to get his harvesting done in a short window while you are there so move out of the way if you see active tractors or semis on the road with you. Do try and find harvesting taking off the last rows of a field as birds coming pouring out in front of them. Just park a ways away to not impede the semis entering/leaving the field to haul away the crop. Walk to the ditch and wave at the combine operator- not hard to tell if they want you there or not. Many are hunters themselves who appreciate what you are doing or like protecting their yields and getting rid of pheasants helps them out.

I always find it amusing to be way out in the middle of nowhere, take off into a field and get half a mile back into a mile square of fields, over rolling hills and unfenced grass and find a street marker just like any corner in town with cross streets like 493rd St and 195th Ave. These can be an adventure and fun diversion in the middle of the afternoon but you will do just a good hunting the well defined gravel roads. Stay off them if it is wet out since low spots will get you stuck and you will tear ruts into it. Getting stuck and having to ask the farmer to pull you out of his section line during harvest time is a really bad situation. We made a mistake and got stuck two years ago on a section line we knew well and we spent 2 hours hand digging in mud up to our knees trying to dig out and pile sticks and brush under the tires. Finally got it out ourselves just so we didn't have to go to the farmer. Like I said, they are an adventure but every once in a while you find a honey hole that makes it worth it.
 

mikeP

New member
i would guess way too many birds are shot and never recovered without a dog, wasted resource.
I would agree, however that number can be greatly reduced, I shoot year round and don’t take long range shots. Even then, they are tough birds! I wish I had a dog but I don’t, so I have to do the best I can. I have lost very few birds that I have knocked down. But, I bet I’ve walked by hundreds! 😆
 

PeteRevvv

Active member
Between hunting and winterkill you are only looking at 20% rooster survival so if the crippling shot didn't take them out, 4 out of 5 times the winter weather would have anyway eventually. Hunting ethics requires you to do the best you can at recovery with what you have available. I guess you are leaving less birds for the next hunter that comes through. Catch and release is pretty deadly to fish but we do that all the time.
 
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