Stukel's Birds and Bucks Joins Schroeder at the Indy 500 INDIANAPOLIS, May 15 - A quiet stroll through a grassy meadow hunting for pheasants, a Labrador retriever with his nose to the ground just ahead, is worlds apart...
Stukel's Birds and Bucks Joins Schroeder at the Indy 500
INDIANAPOLIS, May 15 - A quiet stroll through a grassy meadow hunting for pheasants, a Labrador retriever with his nose to the ground just ahead, is worlds apart from the loud roar of engines, the spectacle of colorfully painted race cars, and the smell of burned rubber mixed with corn dogs encountered by someone elbowing his way through the crowds at the world's largest single-day sporting event, the Indy 500, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway May 30. Pep Boys Indy Racing League driver Jeret Schroeder loves both scenes. That's why the Bank One Rookie of the Year candidate is proud that one of the decals on his Purity Farms G-Force Infiniti No. 96 touts the name of his favorite hunting outfitter and guide, Stukel's Birds and Bucks of Gregory, S.D. Life at Stukel's consists of chirping crickets; the clean smell of the earth with a top layer of morning dew; and hunters wearing blaze orange and camouflage gear hiking through 12,000 acres of fields and woodlands in pursuit of pheasant, sharp-tailed grouse, prairie chicken, turkey, Canada goose, mule deer and even bison. It's quite different than life at IMS, but there are some similarities. Both are places where sportsman do what they like to do best; teamwork, skill and preparation are vital to success; safety is paramount; and the weather and luck play a role. Both places are especially appealing to men; a sense of camaraderie abounds; the tales told at the end of the day tend to be a little tall; and business deals and personal relationships - especially between fathers and sons - can be nurtured. It's one of those business relationships that made Frank Stukel agree to advertise Stukel's Birds and Bucks on Schroeder's car at Indy. Stukel and his brothers, Cal and Ray, and their staff have been running the hunting operation in the south-central region of South Dakota since 1981. Stukel, who just returned from hunting grizzly bears in Alaska earlier this month, has never even been to an auto race, but Schroeder has certainly been to Stukel's. The Vineland, N.J.-based driver has been making trips to this peasant-hunting capital of the world for years, following a pattern set about a dozen years ago by his father, Bill Schroeder, and his uncle, Don Schroeder. "I've hunted for pheasants at Stukel's about six different times since the early '90s," says Schroeder, who will attempt to qualify for his first Indy 500 May 22-23. "I want to go for mule deer next." Schroeder has been shooting guns since he was 9 or 10, but says "you can't legally get your license in Jersey until you're 12." He's a member of the Bushwackers Hunting Club back home in Vineland, N.J., and he got an eight-point white-tailed buck last season hunting in Jersey. But Schroeder also loves to hunt pheasants in South Dakota at Stukel's, which he says is great for two main reasons. "First is the hunt itself. It's just a great experience," he says. "You're allowed three birds a day, and we usually hunt for three days. I haven't been here yet when we didn't get our bag limit. "They have a complete shop there for anything you might need, but I bring my own shotgun and gear," he adds. "You always hunt with trained dogs. We use their dogs, but you can bring your own if you want because they have a kennel. The dogs flush the birds out of the cornfields or grasses. We always go on the hunts that have professional guides like Frank or Ray with us, but there are self-guided hunts too. It's a real easy, laid-back hunt; you get up at 8 or so, go have breakfast, get ready, start hunting around 10, hunt a few fields, eat lunch in an old barn that serves as the staging area, go back out and hunt a few more fields, and then at the end of the day they clean the birds and freeze them for you, and pack them up to take with you when it's time to go home." The second main reason Schroeder loves his visits to Stukel's is the lodge, which has 9,000 square feet of living space and can accommodate up to 30 overnight guests. "We go with about 20 people per trip, and the hospitality and the food is great," he says. "They have all kinds of good food, all of it home-cooked, so it's wonderful. We've had prime rib, pheasant, Alaskan salmon and bison for dinner. "The lodge is just like home; it has big bathrooms and nice couches in the living room, a pool table and a satellite TV with all the stations so I can watch the races," he adds. "There is a 50-shot sporting clay course next to the lodge, and there are taxidermy mounts throughout the whole place of just about everything, from mule deer to bear, white-tailed deer, mountain lions, turkeys, mountain goats and just about every kind of duck you can think of. "They can host families, friends, or corporate functions, which is why racing ties in great," Schroeder adds. "It's a great place to go to get away from it all, but it's also ideal for companies that want to have a conference or seminar in the great room. There are three phone and fax lines and two office work areas."
Another feature is the facility's deer-hunting cabin, which is located on a secluded spot a couple of hundred yards from the shore of the Missouri River. "It's just great," Schroeder vows. "It's to a hunter what pit road at Indy is to a racer. That's where I want to go the next time at Stukel's, when I go for mule deer." Stukel's has an aggressive pheasant restocking program, which begins each spring with chicks that are raised on the property and then released in August. This year Stukel's will release at least 1,500 birds to supplement the native population. This aspect of the operation allows Stukel's to be classified as a South Dakota hunting preserve, which allows them to extend daily bird limits, shooting hours and season dates in some cases. Approximately 1,600 acres are available to hunt under this program. Schroeder said a trip to Stukel's was a great pick-me-up following an accident he had in a Formula 2000 race at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 1993 which resulted in a serious foot injury. "I had just come out of my cast, and I did a lot of walking on that trip to Stukel's just to get back in the swing of things," he said. "But I missed the one year that my family went to Stukel's and there was an early snowfall and everybody got snowed in. The only way in and out was with a tractor. I was disappointed that I missed that one." The regular pheasant-hunting season opens the third weekend in October, but there are early- and late-season hunts in late September and early October. Turkey season is in both the spring and the fall, while grouse and prairie chicken are hunted from mid-September to early December. The mule deer season is in November, while the best buffalo hides can be obtained from December through January. In a series of popular TV commercials around other big American sporting events, star athletes are asked where they're going to go after the big game. "DisneyWorld," is the energetic answer on TV. "If I would be lucky enough to win at Indy, my answer to that would be Stukel's!" says a grinning Schroeder, who can be as fast with a reply as he is with a shotgun or driving on a racetrack. "Our race at DisneyWorld is in January!"