GEDDES, S.D. — Pheasant hunting runs deep in the Mushitz family.
While it’s a family tradition that’s been passed down from one generation to the next, dating back nearly a century, their passion for pheasant hunting has helped the Mushitz family build a profitable business at their Geddes lodge over the past two decades.
For Bill and Adam Mushitz, owners of Mushitz Ringnecks, it’s not about the money. Keeping the pheasant hunting tradition alive and well for future generations is what motivates the father-son duo to run their hunting lodge and guiding service in the pheasant belt of South Dakota. But to do that, there must be a healthy pheasant population, which is something the Mushitzes have been dedicated to maintaining since they began building the hunting business on their roughly 2,000 acres of land.
“We just had a group of guys that came to hunt and stay here on opening weekend for the 17th year in a row, and they are now bringing their kids with them. Now their kids are wanting to break away on their own and bring their friends up here in the future to hunt. That’s what’s all about,” said Adam Mushitz, as he made his way to check on the pheasants he’s raising in his pen near the lodge.
From planting food plots and treelines along their land to using farming methods that help wildlife habitat, the Mushitzes have poured a lot of effort into maintaining a strong pheasant population on their hunting and farm ground.
“We farm for the birds,” Adam Mushitz said.
Since owning the land, the Mushitzes have enrolled roughly 100 acres of it into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which is a federal program that gives landowners an annual per-acre-payment to take environmentally sensitive farmland out of production to conserve the soil. CRP has a major impact on improving the soil health and nearby water streams, which helps provide pheasants and wildlife with more habitat.
As a longtime farmer and avid hunter, Bill Mushitz has been developing ways to farm his land to help boost the bird population. Planting food plots along the farm ground and reducing chemicals in the crops are just several methods he’s used to improve pheasant and wildlife habitat.
“Anything that is farmed out here has food plots for the birds,” Bill Mushitz said. “The treelines we plant are really good cover for the birds.”
Although the Mushitzes' approach farming with wildlife habitat on their mind, that’s not always the case for other agriculture producers. Bill Mushitz pointed to the increase of crop chemicals and pesticides as a potential factor for the reduction in pheasants that he’s noticed throughout the past five decades.
“It used to be really good hunting back in the day. High priced corn and farming with more chemicals kind of hurt it,” Bill Mushitz said. “But we use good farming practices and put in CRP to keep the hunting good.”
With the abundance of nest predators that roam much of South Dakota’s prairies, Adam Mushitz said wildlife management is a vital component for maintaining a strong pheasant population. To protect the wild upland birds, the Mushitzes turn to trapping, which helps remove common nest predators in the area such as coyotes, raccoons and opossums.
Preserving the state’s pheasant population through increasing trapping efforts was part of South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem’s main goal when she created the Nest Predator Bounty Program that wrapped up in July 2020. The program paid trappers $5 to $10 for submitting the tail of every pheasant nest predator that’s legally and properly trapped. Between the 4,000 participants of the bounty program -- which spanned from April to July in 2019 and 2020, the timeframe that pheasants are breeding in their nests -- the trappers caught and removed roughly 80,000 nest predators, according to the South Dakota Game, Fish and Park’s data.
Judging by the solid number of pheasants he’s seen over the past three months in the fields while guiding groups of hunters, Adam Mushitz said the bounty program has had a positive impact on the rooster population.
“I sure think the bounty program helped, because it gave more incentive to trap nest predators,” Adam Mushitz said. “The nest predators are definitely tough on the birds, so it’s an important part of it all. Habitat is the most important part, but trapping is another good way to help the big picture.”
Building the guiding business
Before Bill Mushitz bought the land where the hunting lodge sits on today, he had farmed it for his friend since the 1980s. While he always had an interest in buying the land, that opportunity came in 2005, when land started to inflate.
After a handshake agreement to acquire the land from his friend who he met through pheasant hunting, Bill Mushitz said he needed to explore more revenue-generating options to pay off the large sum of land he owned. Opening a hunting lodge and guiding service was the answer he was looking for.
“One way to pay for it was through the hunting, and it worked out,” Bill Mushitz said.
Considering he had farmed the land for several decades and knew the layout well, Bill Mushitz had enough confidence in his hunting abilities to open a pheasant guiding service and lodge in the early 2000s.
“You get better and better each time you guide, but it helps knowing the land so well,” Bill Mushitz said. “It wasn’t easy starting this up, but it has worked out well. And have slowly added on over the years.”
When he began the guiding business, Bill Mushitz said he wanted it to be a family and friends-first type of operation. As the main guide who is now running the operation, Adam Mushitz has honored his father’s family-first motto.
“A majority of the groups I guide are in-state hunters and friends and family,” he said. “I still guide a fair share of out-of-state hunters, but we don’t really rely on those types of large corporate groups.”
As Mushitz Ringnecks approaches the 20-year mark, Bill Mushitz is proud of how far the family business has come.
What started out as an old barn house that could sleep 14 has expanded into two lodges both equipped with a kitchen and bathrooms. In addition, there are designated areas for bird cleaning. Combined, the two lodges can host up to roughly 26 people.
The expansion of the lodging area isn’t the only growth Mushitz Ringnecks experienced. The family has added more hunting land in recent years. Today, the Mushitz hunting land has enough acres for groups to hunt a new section of fields over a four-day span.
With his extensive experience as a hunting guide, Adam Mushitz said he has developed ways of knowing which areas will be a hotspot. But those methods are best kept secret to give the 38-year-old guide an edge on his competition. While he regularly guides groups made up of repeat hunters, it’s always safety first. Before walking the fields, he begins each hunt with a safety speech.
“As a guide, you never want to have accidents or mishaps, and so far, so good,” he said.
What makes Mushitz Ringnecks unique from other hunting guide businesses is the pheasant raising pens that sit on site.
Each chick that the Mushitzes buy are one day old. From there, Adam Mushitz and his kids maintain the food in their pen, while taking care of the chicks until they are raised and ready to be released into the wild as roosters and hens.
“It takes a lot of work, between feeding them everyday and checking on them,” Adam Mushitz said.
Although the price of the chicks has significantly increased through the years, jumping from 25 cents in the 1980s to around the current price of $2, the Mushitzes continue to raise pheasants and release them into the wild. The Mushitzes pens can hold up to 3,000 chicks.
Raising pheasants has been an interesting process, which Adam Mushitz said requires an attention to detail. For example, if a hen has a wound or looks different from the bunch, he said roosters will typically peck at the wounds. However, Adam Mushitz places a strong cover that acts like a bandage to stop the roosters from killing a wounded hen.
Helping raise the pheasants has also provided another avenue for his four children to gain interest in pheasant hunting, Adam Mushitz said.
"Keeping the pheasant hunting tradition alive, and being able to enjoy it with family is what it's all about," Adam Mushitz said.