A party of hunters from southeastern Ohio have made traveling to South Dakota for the pheasant opener a family and friends tradition. Pictured in front are Mark Bober, Greg Dickson, Alex Wesel, and Joe Wesel III, and in back, Andrew Wesel, Hal Payne, Bob Dickson, David Wesel, and Joe Wesel II

For more than twenty years, a hunting party comprised of extended family and friends from Marietta, OH has made traveling to Sully County to hunt pheasants an annual tradition.

Their initial trips to South Dakota were to the eastern part of the state where they met sporadic success hunting public lands. “The first few years we came out, we didn’t know anybody,” said David Wesel. “We stayed in the Brookings and Watertown area, and hunted public land, which, if you’re not the first, can be pretty tough.”

It was through a basketball team they played on that they learned about hunting in Sully County. Dinah Stephens’ husband John Johnston was on that team, and Dinah introduced me via telephone to her brother Weldon “Jerry” Stephens. “1998 was the first year we came out here,” said Wesel about connecting with Weldon ‘Jerry’ Stephens. The first hunting party included Wesel, his uncle Robert Dickson, cousin Greg Dickson, Mark Bober, Coby Stephens, and David’s dad, Joe Wesel, Sr.

“We’re cousins and friends,” said Wesel in regards to Greg Dickson. “He’s been with me on this thing all the way.”

Wesel calls nonagenarian Bob Dickson a crack shot. “He’s 90-years-old, and he got two solo birds,” said Wesel. “He’s sort of a role model,” to which Dickson replied, “Someone’s gotta keep them straight.”

Admiration for Dickson stems from more than just his skill with a gun – a gun Dickson has been using for more than seven decades. “He’s a very modest gentleman,” said Wesel. “He’s a Korean War vet. We were out waterfowl hunting this morning, and it was cold, wet and rainy. Sitting in those cattails, he got a couple of shots off.”

When they came to Sully County in 1998, they were a party of fathers and sons, which continues. “I brought my son out here,” said Wesel. “There are three generations from our family that have hunted in Sully county. My dad told me, ‘you gotta bring your brother,’ and now his son has come here, too.”

In addition to the time spent as family and in the field, Wesel says that “the people here treat us like family. We’re really welcomed into the community. Roxy’s always real nice to us at the hardware store, we go to Brock’s to get our meats and support Don’s with our grocery purchases. Jo at the Bakery even has nicknames for us. The people at The Corner know us, and we remember going to the Fireside when it was there for the broasted chicken.”

In particular, Wesel notes the welcome he’s received from Milt and Sue Burgeson, Theron and Kelli Stephens, and Jerry Stephens, who has “worked hard on getting permission for us to hunt on private land and having things lined up.”

Greg Dickson relates that the party always turns out for the Onida Fire Department’s fundraiser.

The change of scenery adds to the appeal of coming to Sully County. “The other thing is the vastness here compared to Southern Ohio,” said Wesel. “To see the scope. It’s a great experience to bring our children and let them see this is the bread basket here, all the equipment hard work involved with providing that.”

Through the years of coming to the area, the Ohioans have developed genuine friendships with members of the community. “They’re friends we talk to all year long,” said Wesel. “We exchange Christmas cards and stay in touch on social media.”

Third generation hunter Andrew Wesel says that being able to work his dogs is a big draw for him, “Part of the appeal for me is hunting the labs,” said Andrew Wesel. “The dogs love it, live for it. Whenever we load up, about the time we hit Indiana, you can tell – the dogs know.”

Greg Dickson agrees. “One of my dogs is 9-years-old, and I was worried it would be too much for him, but he’s running every bit as hard as the 2-year-old.”

“Bob looks forward to this every year,” said David Wesel. “He’s got two new knees, but he trains by riding a bike in order to come out here.”

“Really, the appeal is the experience,” said Wesel. “We make a lot of memories.”