Loran Smith’s feature column: Homer Harding

Published 4:24 pm Tuesday, December 12, 2023

It has been several seasons since I have pheasant hunted in South

Dakota, but I fully expect to return to the “Mount Rushmore State.” Have

my calendar marked for next fall.

What made me think of making October plans at this juncture on the

calendar is that I got an email in the last fortnight from a long time South

Dakota friend, Homer Harding. Harding and his friend, George Mickelson,

introduced me to South Dakota hospitality and pheasant hunting. I have

never experienced a greater combination of experiences.

In his note, Homer allowed his hunting days are over. “I’m 98 now,”

he wrote. I hunted with him for years with him getting his limit in his early

years as a nonagenarian.

He walked the South Dakota grainfields as fluidly as a teenager

strolling down the street. When the day ended, he was eager for a steak

dinner, a couple of Rob Roy’s, and good conversation.

 

The way I met Homer came about through a friendship with a Coca-

Cola executive, Bill Schermerhorn, who was friends with the governor of

South Dakota, George Mickelson. The governor had a great affinity for golf

 

and arranged for tickets to the Masters via his relationship with Georgia

governor, Zell Miller.

I hosted Mickelson’s party while they were in Augusta and a warm

friendship ensued with the governor and his state treasurer who was

Homer Harding.

There were trips to Pierre, the capital city, where the governor and

Homer arranged pheasant hunts. At the end of one trip, we wound up

having dinner at the governor’s mansion after which the governor’s wife,

hosted a small Georgia party at a new museum a few blocks away.

While we were at the museum, the governor and Homer cleaned the

pheasant we had killed which we brought home with us. I remember

another trip when we showed up at a local steak house for dinner. There

must have been 20 or more diners-to-be who were awaiting seating. The

proprietor immediately went into a scramble to bring about VIP

arrangements, but Mickelson would not allow that to take place. We went

elsewhere.

 

When the governor attended the Masters, he stayed at a budget

motel. When I told him we could get him an upgrade, he said. “That is not

a problem. We only need a place to shower and change clothes.” I

 

wanted to move to South Dakota so I could become eligible to vote for him.

Made me wish all politicians were like that.

Tragically, Mickelson was killed in a plane crash, a heartbreaking

circumstance for all his friends. After that, I kept returning to South Dakota

to hunt with Homer always going by for a moment of silence at the

memorial to the late governor.

 

Initially, it was hard to hunt without regret since we all knew that we

had lost a close friend with the governor’s death, but as Homer said, “He

would want us to carry on.”

Killing a cock pheasant in South Dakota ranks with the best of

outdoor experiences. The landscape is different, but its uniqueness is

captivating. Prairies, the Missouri River which Lewis and Clark (and

Sacagawea), traversed, the “Badlands,” and Mount Rushmore—all

secondary to walking the fields in pursuit of bringing down a pheasant for

supper.

You walk the fields, knowing that ahead of you is a beautiful bird

which is cagey and extraordinarily alert. Pheasant are so cunning that you

can walk past them as they hunker down into the corn and grain stalks,

poised to blast up and away.

 

The cock pheasant is the most beautiful of birds. I have several

mounts on the wall of my den, each connected with the heart-warming

memory of a morning or afternoon hunt in the most uplifting of outdoor

settings.

South Dakota was the 40 th state admitted to the union which came

about on Nov. 1, 1889. Not sure what a survey would reveal, but I think

most non-residents are most aware of Mount Rushmore and pheasant

hunting when asked about this state named for the Sioux native Americans.

The people of the state are hearty and generous. They enjoy the

outdoors and are proud to welcome visitors every year to hunt their farms

and ranches amid the most welcoming of hospitality. I miss those trips to

South Dakota, and I still miss my friend the late governor.