Press "Enter" to skip to content

“Swing That Gun, Tim!” SD Tourism Features 1960s GF&P Pheasant Hunting Flick

O, that we might fly back to 1960s South Dakota, when gentle chirpy music played behind our pheasant hunts and stag parties at the Plains Motel.

South Dakota Tourism tweets this splendid promotional video, Pheasantland USA, produced in the 1960s by South Dakota Game Fish & Parks, the University of South Dakota, and the Conservation Department of Winchester-Western.

At 1:10, a couple of guys hop out their airplane, ready to hunt in their coonskin caps. The narrator says they've flown a thousand miles just to shoot a "wild chicken."

At 3:45, our state scriptsmiths craft the compelling narrative of young Tim, "taking his place in the company of MEN." Wise old Els hands Tim a booklet on hunting and tells him to pay close attention to the section on gun safety to get ready for tomorrow.

Tomorrow is a long time away when you're fifteen and waiting to go on your first pheasant hunt. This isn't just another rabbit hunt. This is a real bird hunt, a man's game played by men's rules. What's going to happen? Will we see pheasants? Will I get a chance to shoot? And will I be able to hit one of those roosters? If I can get a bird or two, what will Dad say? Well, Tim, we'll see. you never know what's going to happen out pheasant hunting [SDGF&P, Pheasantland USA, promotional video, circa 1960s].

The finest French cinematography comes at 6:10, the morning of the big hunt, as the camera opens from the night and lingers on a single frying egg, clearly a symbol of Tim's youthful existential isolation, as well as a subtle homage to the sustaining feminine id.

At 7:45, the film offers a conservation lesson that Governor Daugaard needed eight meetings and workgroup to figure out: pheasants need cover. The film attests to the farmer's conservation mission and the need to keep grassland for nesting cover and shelterbelts for winter habitat. "You don't get something for nothing," says the narrator, "and you can't raise game without cover" [9:20]. A bit later, the film turns a fine phrase, saying that if we "protect[] a few places from the cow, the plow, and the match" [12:22] we'll have pheasant hunting in the fall.

From there on, the film is mostly hunting wisdom and joy. After the "first action of the day" at 11:40, MEN sit on the ground by the tailgate of their International pickup truck and make white-bread sandwiches of ring bologna and longhorn cheese sliced by their own knives in the field. Never do men live as well as at this moment.

Around 16:00, the men deploy in a cornfield, with the dog crew driving the birds through the golden rows toward the stealthy blockers out by the fence. "It doesn't make much difference if the birds know that the drivers are there, but the presence of blockers should be a military secret."

And at 17:23, we get the sign Lee Schoenbeck has on his new desk in Pierre: "Those two retrievers can be the equal of several men."

This film is mirthfully dated, yet entirely up to date. This fifty-year-old film is exactly the reel playing in every South Dakotan's mind as we head out to the field to blast our state bird.

Related Viewing: Compare that 1960s entry with this amped-up, slo-mo rock-themed 30-second spot on South Dakota pheasant hunting:

As thanks to the country that sent us the wily pheasant, here's an official South Dakota Tourism video promoting our fair state... with Chinese subtitles.


  1. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.12.11

    Any idea when those air subsidies started, Larry? Those coonskin-cap fellers flew in on their own charter, but nowadays the federal government would pay $318 toward flying each of them into Watertown and $527 toward a ticket to Huron. So says the Pierre Capital Journal's map of Essential Air Service subsidies.

  2. mike from iowa 2014.12.11

    Essential Air Service (EAS) is a U.S. government program enacted to guarantee that small communities in the United States, which, prior to deregulation, were served by certificated airlines, maintained commercial service. Its aim is to maintain a minimal level of scheduled air service to these communities that otherwise would not be profitable. This came in response to the Airline Deregulation Act, passed in 1978, which gave U.S. airlines almost total freedom to determine which markets to serve domestically and what fares to charge for that service.[1] The program is codified at 49 U.S.C. §§ 41731–41748.

  3. Rorschach 2014.12.11

    That old '60s video was fun. The hunt goes on, and now Tim brings his son and grandson.

  4. bret clanton 2014.12.11

    Mr. farmer needs to spend less time hunting and more time fencing.....

  5. Rorschach 2014.12.11

    Bret, Old Els is pushing daisies. And in is final days he surely didn't regret spending his time hunting instead of fencing.

  6. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.12.11

    Mom's side of the family came up from Iowa, her brother from Woonsocket, and others here and there. Pheasants were thick as fleas. We had pheasant feasts for 3 days, sent coolers of pheasants back with visitors, and ate pheasants throughout the winter. I enjoyed hunting pheasants over any other game.

    The old ad reminded me of that, and shocked me at its wholly male focus. I'd forgotten how hard it was to be female then. The middle commercial showed women in every kind of activity. What a difference 50 years makes. Holy moly. The last ad is my favorite.

  7. Bill Dithmer 2014.12.11

    Thanks for the memories Cory. In those days the hunters were different then they are now. Then it was all about the people that showed up at the ranch. If they didnt hunt when they got there, they at least had gone hunting by the time they left.

    Its no secret that I grew up in a hunting family. Ranching for us then was like this. The first nine months of the year we worked like hell so we could hunt from October through December. There were times when planting wheat, hauling hey, and working cattle, not only for the ranch, but all the neighbors, made us take a break from hunting. It might have shortened our seasons by a few days, but it couldnt deminish our need to hunt.

    We would get up early when it was deer season milk cows, and be at the Berry ranch before sun up. Then we would get home after dark and do night chores. Sometimes when we were lucky and the bucket calves would get in with the milk cows and we would get a reprieve from part of those chores.

    I dont know how it was with most young kids at the time but I suspect our stories were a lot alike. From the time I was about eight until the age of twelve, whenever I wasn't in school, and a few times when I was, I went hunting with whoever was there.

    We had some good dogs back then but I was used as a spare retriever. If the party got separated and I was with hunters that didnt have a dog along, I was expected to crawl under brush, get through fences, and wade creeks. For a short time I thought I was a Labrador named Rex, but thats another story.

    Whats that you say, you thought The Blindman was blind. Yup, I'm blind, and yes I've shot many birds in my life, and ya I have shot some hens, but I never killed a single person.

    I was guiding at fifteen almost every weekend for family, friends, and a lot of times someone that just wanted a place to hunt. When I think about all the money that changes hands today doing the same things I did for free, well it makes you think.

    It would sure be fun to know how many actual hunters were subsidized flying into the state. And, are there any first class hunters getting breaks when they come here?

    From 1972 until "pay to hunt" started, you could go to the Winner airport and expect to see up to a dozen Leer jets tied down at any one time. Now, not so much.

    Back then there were interesting characters in town all season long. I'm betting Winner South Dakota is the only place you would have found Dick Butkus, Captain 11, and The Blindman, setting at a table in the Legion, eating steaks, getting drunk, and telling stories. But the that to is another story.

    I knew about the air subsidies, but I had no idea how big they were.

    The times they are a changing.

    The Blindman

  8. bret clanton 2014.12.12

    Deb....I believe the female side of the equation would have been represented at the stag party......

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.12.12

    Deb's on target with her reaction to the absence of women from the 1960s film. I'm a little surprised GF&P didn't even spruce up the farmhouse scenes by putting Els's wife in the frame to make dinner. Notice that the 2013 clip is also all-testosterone, complete with the slo-mo armed stud walk in the last shot.

    Women feature prominently in the video promoting South Dakota to our Chinese friends—ladies hiking, ladies on Harleys.... I wonder: did SD Tourism create any similar female-oriented or female-inclusive promo films in the 1960s, or was it assumed that men were the exclusive vacation decision-makers?

    And where they heck would they have shown that 27-minute film? Did we really buy 30-minute blocks on WCCO and WGN?

  10. Lynn 2014.12.12

    When I watched the last SD promotional video I cringed when I saw the Chinese subtitles wondering just how widespread our negative reputation is there for a place to get scammed. (EB-5)

    Otherwise I'd be very happy to see the growing numbers of wealthy Chinese come visit South Dakota and spend money.

  11. Lynn 2014.12.12

    With that 60's video did you notice that farmer's land and how much space was mowed and not used between the ditch and the area that was planted? There is no way you would see that today. At least East River where I've seen there just is not that much cover available anymore nor CRP land with the emphasis on production which I understand. I'm amazed at how close they are able to plant corn. There is no way you can walk those rows anymore.

    Any pheasant numbers out yet for 2014 or whatever metrics Game Fish and Parks use? It seems like the hunter numbers especially from out of state are still really down. I remember when all the hotel rooms were booked many a year in advance and the local paper would ask for people to open up their homes for hunters to stay.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.12.12

    Interesting ecological observations, Lynn! If Governor Daugaard is really interested in boosting pheasant numbers, he should pay attention to the basic conservation lessons included in this film.

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.12.12

    GF&P's 2014 Pheasant Brood Survey Report, based on data gathered July 25 through August 15, found the "Pheasants Per Mile" index up 76% from 2013 (2.68 in 2014; 1.52 in 2013) but down 53% from the ten-year average of 5.75.

  14. JeniW 2014.12.12

    What? No Little House on the Prairie? No Sidewalk Arts? Bikers riding without protective gear, except one guy wearing a helmet. No Wall Drug with its free cup of coffee?

    The only thing in Sioux Falls worth going to is the Falls and the Malls?

    Even though a bit misleading, it is actually, it is a nice video, whomever put it together did a good job with capturing some good shots and with editing.

    My first thought when the video started, what I think is suppose be the sunrise, it look like the glow of the nuke bomb that was dropped on Japan.

    But if it helps bring in some revenue by charging higher prices during the summer months, and increase tax revenue, and it is not illegal, I should applaud the effort.

  15. Paul Seamans 2014.12.12

    Pheasant numbers are up because of an open winter last year and the right kind of spring. I fear that the Governor's task force hasn't accomplished anything yet. A bad winter without the grass cover and the shelter belts that are being removed will see pheasant populations heading south real fast.

  16. mike from iowa 2014.12.12

    Hard to believe pheasant numbers are up after that blizzard you had early last year. Birds hunker down and get buried in snow and can't get out. Maybe koch bros pheasants rallied the troops and filled the gap-for a price.

  17. Wayne Pauli 2014.12.12

    Borrowed from Wikipedia:

    Earl Butz was Assistant Secretary of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., from 1954 to 1957 under President Dwight Eisenhower. In 1971, President Richard Nixon appointed Butz as Secretary of Agriculture a position in which he continued to serve after Nixon resigned in 1974 as the result of the Watergate scandal. He was Secretary of Agriculture from 1971 to 1976 under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. In his time heading the USDA, Butz drastically changed federal agricultural policy and reengineered many New Deal era farm support programs.
    For example, he abolished a program that paid corn farmers to not plant all their land. This program had attempted to prevent a national oversupply of corn and low corn prices. His mantra to farmers was "get big or get out," and he urged farmers to plant corn "from fencerow to fencerow." These policy shifts coincided with the rise of major agribusiness corporations, and the declining financial stability of the small family farm.

    In my estimation this is the reason we do not have the pheasants, the habitat, or the fun in Winner any more during hunting season. I do recall Butkus being in Winner. And, if you were with Captain 11 you had to be drinking :-)

    These ag policies are why I left the farm in 1973 and went to college. Did I miss the way of life? I sure did. I am weird, but I really missed the milk cows. Thanks Earl.

  18. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.12.12

    Butz destroyed many farmers, including my father, with his pathetically wrong-headed advice. Being the "butz" of many jokes is the least of what he deserved.

  19. Bill Dithmer 2014.12.13

    Wayne, you are right about Mr Butz, but the slide in small farms started long before that with the advancement of mecinization. From the time of that first steel wheeled tractor, farms started to increase in size. As much as I disliked Earl Butz, it was going to happen.

    Part of the reason for the fast slide happened the year you started college. In 1973 the US left the "gold standard." At that time the dollar had seven times the buying power that it has today. Just think about that for a little bit. Someone that made two dollars an hour in 1973, had the financial buying power as someone making fourteen dollars an hour today.

    At about the same time fuel started going up in price faster then it ever had in peacetime. Small farmers were simply run out of business because they couldnt compete with the continually evolving efficency of modern farming practices.

    In weatern SD the slide happened a little faster because of the distances traveled from the producers to market, and the continued rise in fuel prices. Commodity prices were just about the same then as they are now so you can see that the same efficency that made some farmers rich, also forced many small farmers from their land because they just couldnt afford to grow crops useing outdated machinery that cost more to run per acre and did a less effecient job, then the newer bigger machines.

    Loosing rail service across the state didnt help the small farmer either. When most could have moved their product after a thirty mile haul, now they were looking at more cents per mile to get both from the farm to the elevator, but also from the elevator to the mills. The result was more eighteen wheelers sold to farmers that could haul 800 bushels as opposed to a tandem hauling three hundred bushel at about the same price.

    As for bird numbers, a big part of the reason for low brood counts in western SD was an almost eight year drought. Not even plumb brush can survive that many years without water. After last year the underbrush is coming back but that is a long process. When that happens, and we get favorable nesting conditions, the bird populations will come back, at least in western South Dakota.
    The GF&Ps will never have an accurate brood count. At least not one released to the general public. They are as addicted to money as a meth head is to meth. Their existence depends on hunting dollars and a huge chunk of that comes from out of state. So it really doesnt mater how many birds there are, they will never admit how bad the hunting is going to be that year.

    Does anybody remember when rural mail carriers did the brood counts?

    The Blindman

Comments are closed.