Episode Guide: Pheasants in South Dakota Img

There’s a time-honored tradition of hunting wild game birds throughout the Great Plains, including pheasant in South Dakota. From the Black Hills, to the Eastern Plains, South Dakotans gather with their dogs in the plains each year. We traveled across eastern South Dakota during pheasant season, which is welcomed and celebrated by both locals and visitors each year. We’ll learn more about the thrill and beauty of this harvest — including learning from a biologist and conservationist on the hunt.

The pheasant was brought to the region from China in the late 19th century, and on Feb. 13, 1943, the Chinese ring-necked pheasant became the official state bird of South Dakota. In 2018, South Dakota Game Fish and Parks celebrated 100 years of the pheasant. 

Double P Ranch

Cyrus Mahmoodi is the owner of Double P Ranch, and Anthony Cavalli-Singer is one of the guides and trains pheasant hunting dogs, who make the hunt possible, finding their targets in water and very tall grass — over six feet high! The pheasants thrive on the property because of the abundance of habitat, including a mix of native grass prairie and wetlands, which Cyrus has worked to restore. 

Chef David Hawley cooks a variety of pheasant dishes for guests of the Double P Ranch. The dish he cooks the most often is Pheasant Marsala, a personal favorite and very popular among the ranch’s guests. 

Pheasant Marsala 

  • 4 pheasant filets
  • Water for brining
  • 2 tablespoons salt (for brining)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup asparagus, trimmed and cut into pieces
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 cup Versasi Sweet Marsala Wine
  • 1 stick of butter, cut into chunks
  • Mashed potatoes, for serving

Prepare the Pheasant:

  1. Brine the pheasant filets by submerging them in a mixture of water and 2 tablespoons of salt. Let them soak for at least 1 hour to tenderize the meat.
  2. Remove the pheasant from the brine, pat dry, and butterfly each filet. Use the flat side of a mallet to pound the filets to an even thickness.

Season the Filets:

  1. Season one side of the pheasant filets with fresh thyme, salt, and black pepper.

Cook the Pheasant:

  1. Heat a frying pan over medium heat and drizzle with olive oil.
  2. Place the seasoned pheasant filets in the pan, seasoned-side down, and cook for 2-3 minutes until browned. Flip and cook the other side for another 2-3 minutes until a crust forms. Remove from pan and set aside.

Cook the Vegetables:

  1. In the same pan, add the asparagus, mushrooms, green beans, and onion. Toss and cook for 2-3 minutes until the vegetables are sizzling and slightly tender.

Make the Marsala Sauce:

  1. Pour Marsala wine into the pan with the vegetables. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add the chunks of butter to the pan, stirring slowly until the butter is completely melted and the sauce starts to thicken and take on a lighter color.

Plate the mashed potatoes and top with the cooked pheasant filets. Spoon the vegetables and Marsala sauce over the pheasant and mashed potatoes. Serve immediately, enjoying the rich flavors of the sauce with the tender pheasant and vegetables.

A Pheasant Sandwich Tradition

During World War II, trains full of troops came through the Aberdeen depot, where a group of Red Cross volunteers distributed free food and drink. In December 1943, some farmers began bringing pheasants to the canteen. This led to the creation of the legendary pheasant sandwich, which became a staple of the canteen’s menu. 

Every October, volunteers in Aberdeen hand out pheasant sandwiches to hunters, continuing a tradition that dates back to World War II, when pheasant sandwiches were handed out to American military members on their way to fight in the war. The canteen in Aberdeen, which opened in 1943 and specialized in free pheasant sandwiches, put the town close to the hearts and minds of thousands of service men and women traveling across the continent on the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroads. The spirit of all those volunteers who came together to thank the service men and women passing through the town is still alive and well in the area. 

Aberdeen Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Casey Weismantel tells us of the history of the canteen, and shares with us the authentic recipe for the very sandwiches handed out during that time. 

World War II Pheasant Canteen Sandwich 

  • 2 pheasant filets
  • ⅔ cup carrots, finely chopped
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, roughly chopped
  • ⅔ cup celery, finely chopped
  • ⅓ cup white onion, finely chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons sweet relish
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • Mayonnaise or salad dressing, as needed to moisten the mixture
  • Butter, for spreading on bread
  • Sandwich bread (type of your choice)
  1. Cook the pheasant filets in a skillet over medium heat until fully cooked and tender. Let them cool, then chop them finely.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the finely chopped carrots, celery, and white onion.
  3. Add the roughly chopped hard-boiled eggs and the finely chopped pheasant to the bowl.
  4. Stir in the sweet relish. Mix well.
  5. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Add mayonnaise or salad dressing little by little, stirring until the mixture is well moistened but not overly wet.
  7. Butter the inside sides of each slice of bread. This not only adds flavor but also helps to prevent the bread from becoming soggy.
  8. Scoop a generous amount of the pheasant salad mixture onto one slice of the buttered bread. Spread evenly.
  9. Top with another slice of bread, buttered side facing the filling. Press down lightly to ensure the sandwich holds together.
  10. Cut the sandwich in half, if desired, and serve immediately. Enjoy this nostalgic and hearty sandwich that brings a taste of history to your meal.

At the Pheasant Restaurant in Brookings, the history and tradition of serving pheasant has continued since 1949. The Pheasant started as a small gas station café on the edge of town and has grown with the Brookings community. The restaurant serves a version of the pheasant sandwich with apple, dried cranberries and roasted pecans with melted Swiss on grilled marble rye. In 2017, The Pheasant was recognized by Oprah Winfrey’s “O” Magazine as serving the sandwich worth traveling to South Dakota for. In 2013 during an unannounced visit, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and his full production team ate at The Pheasant and gave a rave review.

The Pheasant Restaurant has been owned by the same family since 1966 and is now overseen by Georgiana Olson and Michael Johnson, the head chef and general manager, who is Olson’s grandson. Johnson has been working there for over 30 years and was handed over the reins 18 years ago. The restaurant won a 2024 James Beard Classics Award, with judges stating it “embodies the good, simple food and hospitality of South Dakota.”

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