Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge: Pheasants Gone Wild Hunted With the Newest Beretta Semi-Auto

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ROOSTER!

That’s the battle cry of hunters pushing through waist high corn and switch grass at the Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge in the pheasant heartland of Pierre, South Dakota.

When the dogs flushed pheasants, ROOSTER! bellowed across the autumn fields in a united front to ensure only male Rignecks accounted for our day’s harvest that ultimately reached 178 birds.

The pheasant hunting at the Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge came at us fast and furious. The Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge has access to some 4,000 acres of prime hunting property on which 8,000 birds are periodically released during a season. Released at least a week before the hunt, the cultivated birds join the wild pheasant population. You’d be surprised at how quickly the pen-raised pheasants revert to feral quarry. Hear ROOSTER! and you’re at-the-ready, but the strong, high-flying birds can easily out-wit and out-fly a line of eager hunters issuing a barrage of 12-gauge firepower.

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A pair of hunters at the Cheyenne Ridge Signature prepare to down a pheasant under the expansive South Dakota sky.

I was on assignment at the Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge with hunter, chef and food writer, Georgia Pellegrini. We were invited to join a group of 11 hunters from Lextron, Inc. during their customer appreciation outing. Lextron is a distributor of animal health products for the livestock industry, and nearly all of their shooters had been born and raised on Midwest farms. These guys were serious pheasant hunters, and their expectations ran high.

The Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge is celebrated for high expectations. It is distinguished as the first venue awarded a Beretta Trident.

The Beretta Trident Program is a formal evaluation and rating system for participating shooting sports venues around the world – from birds to clays and ranges to big game. Less than five percent of such operations worldwide merit the quality mark of even one Beretta Trident award. Tridents are renewed – or not – every three years, minimally. Much as Michelin “stars” assure superb dining, the Trident program ensures the shooting sportsman will have absolute confidence that any venues receiving Tridents are among the very best and complete field sport experiences available.

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The fireplace in the Great Room of the Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge.

Beretta U.S.A. had introduced the first four affiliated sporting venues of the Beretta Trident Program at a special reception and press conference at the Beretta Gallery in New York City in May 2010. Currently, the other venues include Joshua Creek Ranch, Highland Hills Ranch and the Pine Hill Plantation.

At the Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge, however, history may repeat itself. The destination could be on track to distinguish itself as the only two-Trident recipient – setting the stage for that third and final Trident.

“We have great expectations that we achieved a second Trident rating,” confided Bob Edwards, General Manager of the Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge.

Based on our experience at the Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge, a second Trident seemed like a slam-dunk. Even the guys at Lextron were hoping to return. They raved about extraordinary pheasant shooting, excellent food and well-trained dogs.

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One of the excellent guides at the Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge with his dogs.

But Beretta Trident venues also offer a hidden perk. Their safes are stocked with the newest Beretta shotguns, affording us the opportunity to evaluate the brand new A400 Xplor Light KO 12 Gauge (more on that in a moment). So if you’re interested in purchasing a Beretta shotgun, the Trident Lodges offer auditions before opening your checkbook for a new shotgun.

When we had arrived, the Great Room at the Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge greets visitors with a warm, rustic atmosphere. The U-shaped bar is stocked with top-shelf spirits that are bundled into the all-inclusive package. The wood trusses, leather furniture, magnificent stone hearth and burgundy walls bespoke of refuge and rejuvenation after a day on the South Dakota plains. Georgia and I had arrived shortly after the day’s hunt and the hearty souls who occupied the stools were laughing it up and watching college football on the three big-screen TVs

Each room offers private accommodations. Although the trappings were comfortable and clean, the weather verged on Indian Summer, and the spectacular sunset demanded our full attention. Outside, on the hilltop patio in the rear, a flaming orange sun reflected in the lake directly below us. The contrasting shadows and pastel sky seemed inspiration for a wildlife portrait – a singular moment that defines the essence of our pursuits.

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The group from Lextron poses with the pheasants they bagged in a single day.

Back inside, a triumphant buzz was building around the bar. The country’s economic distress receded into a distant notion. Mr. Edwards has kept the Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge busy through “aggressive” pricing. “We adjusted the pricing to fit the economy with a higher level of accommodations,” he explained. “You don’t have to charge the most to be the best. We’re attracting discerning sportsmen looking for the best value.”

After three days at the Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge, we’re still not quite sure how he managed to deliver on that promise given the deeply satisfying experience he bestowed on his guests.

The cook-house triangle heralded dinner. We convened at long tables easy for conversation. We dined on bacon-wrapped pheasant breast with chambroid Champagne reduction sauce, oven-roasted squash and vegetable pilaf, topped by a dessert of banana nut trifle.

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The Cognac Room at the Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge.

Afterwards, most of the guests went to the game room for cards, football and pool. I grabbed one of my Gurkha Ancient Warrior cigars and headed for the Cognac Room – an old-world retreat of leather and mahogany with a new-world bonus: an ice bar that maintained the ideal cocktail temperature.

I helped myself to a glass of 10-year-old Laphroaig single-malt scotch on the rocks and relaxed into an overstuffed, leather club chair. I was joined by Josh Baldwin, Guest Services Coordinator and Guide, along with his cousin, Chris Baldwin, who was a Guide, and we wiled away an hour or so at the bar in the fragrant atmosphere.

The next morning, the plains lay in repose. The wind maintained a mere whisper under a bluebird sky. Talk in the gun room speculated a high in the 60s, although Mother Nature wrought later in the day an armada of ominous clouds.

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Georgia Pellegrini with one of the pheasants she brought down.

The school bus painted Cheyenne Ridge white presented itself outside. Georgia and I joined the Lextron group. We took a quick 15-minute drive to the Alexander Preserve.

I opted to use the morning hunt for wringing out Beretta’s A400 Xplor Unico semi-auto.  If you haven’t read about the A400 Xplor Unico yet, the shotgun, introduced in December 2009, was engineered to handle any size 12-gauge load from 2¾ inches to 3½ inches of either lead or steel. Beretta claimed unrivaled recoil reduction with its Kick-Off hydraulic system. The so-called Blink operating system cycled 36 percent faster than the competition, according to Beretta. State-of-the-art materials such as aluminum and polymers kept the weight down to 6.6 pounds with 28-inch barrels, although 26-inch and 30-inch barrels would tip the scales differently.

I had tested the gun at the 2010 Shot Show in Las Vegas, and didn’t like the spring back from the Kick-Off’s hydraulics. But the spectacle on that clear morning in South Dakota got the best of me – to the extent that I relinquished my beloved Beretta Silverhawk side-by-side, made in 1960, in favor of the A400 Xplor Unico, for a high-speed test drive in the Indy 500 of pheasant hunting.

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We spread out to our positions.

The bus cabin was stocked with shell boxes containing loose #5 shotshells. As we bounced toward our objective on the washboard road, the racket flushing pheasants all around us, fistfuls of ammo made their way into our oversized pockets.

After disembarking from the bus onto the expansive fields, our group received its marching orders for South Dakota’s native block-and-drive style of driven pheasant shoots.

Block-and-drive means what it says. A line of shooters over dogs advances through a field flanked by shooters on the sides and the end. When a pheasant flushes to the sidelines, the wing shooters have the best chance of getting it. Meanwhile, the pheasants are running ahead, in the thick undercover, from the men and dogs – until they reach the line of blockers in the open. Most importantly, the blue-sky rule prevails: you must see sky between the habitat and the bird before taking a shot to avert hitting man and dog.

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We formed a line of shooters in the classic block-and-drive South Dakota pheasant hunt.

Shooting the A400 Xplor Unico, I discovered that in the heat of the hunt the spring back from the Kick-Off’s hydraulics went unnoticed. I confined shots to my “zone,” but given the strength of the birds a few did get away from the other hunters – presenting longer shots for the A400 Xplor Unico. The shotgun took a few long birds handily as a testament to its fit (kudos to the pistol grip) and obliging trigger.

The birds at the Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge met the challenge of the hunt, to the extent that I did secretly salute those that got away.

ROOSTER!

Guns shouldered, shots fired and everyone zeroed in on the bird waiting for it to fold. The unrelenting Ringneck persisted rising and flying with power and resolve until the shotguns turned silent. All eyes on it, the Ringneck assumed a glide before descending into the distant, tall cover, and during that lull the plains of South Dakota sighed with timeless splendor.

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The timeless splendor of South Dakota.

Naturally, plenty more pheasants were taken than escaped, as evident by lunch during our break. Imagine New England clam chowder South Dakota style, rich with pheasant instead of crustacean. Served with grilled cheese sandwiches on thick-sliced bread, the food fortified us for the afternoon romp in the nearby Nystrom Preserve.

Before climbing back onto the bus, I swapped the A400 Xplor Unico for the brand new 12-gauge A400 Xplor Light KO. The operative word here is Light. The shotgun had been officially unveiled a few days later – underscoring how the Beretta Trident Lodges provide an inside track on the latest Beretta shotguns.

With the 12-gauge A400 Xplor Light KO, Beretta shaved about a quarter pound from the original. The weight savings come in the form of a smaller action that doesn’t accept 3½-inch shells, although it still handles everything else. Also, the version I shot came with 26-inch barrels compared with 30-inchers on the A400 Xplor Unico – contributing to a lighter gun than the one I shot in the morning.

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Beretta’s 12-gauge A400 Xplor Light KO.

My afternoon session with the 12-gauge A400 Xplor Light KO proved the shotgun to be more than just a variant of the A400 Xplor Unico: the Light is the semi-auto the original should have been (unless you believe that chambering 3½-inch shells is indispensable). You could easily argue the Light should be renamed the A400 Xplor Version 2.0.

Pressing on through the chin-high cover, a few pheasants launched directly in front of me. In an instant I realized how quick the Light felt compared with the original. Beretta calls the gas system in the A400 Xplor Unico Blink because of its super-fast cycling. Blink, though, could easily describe the Light’s total performance. The Light was blazing fast.

The wind turned stronger with evening. By the third pass, we had squeezed out all the pheasants that would flush. Everyone seemed ready for the steak dinner that awaited us.

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The 5-Stand at the Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge gives a beautiful view of the South Dakota plains.

That final morning at the Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge rewarded us with perfect weather for the flight home. Most guests were driven to the airport, while the remaining stragglers enjoyed a game of 5-Stand in the covered house.

Mr. Edwards drew open the windows, exposing a sprawling panorama of the plains. He stood behind us, operating the controller that threw the targets, and his inherent, low-key style revealed how he judiciously managed to produce a pheasant hunter’s reverie at the Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge.

Irwin Greenstein is the Publisher of Shotgun Life. You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Useful resources

The Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge web site

The Beretta Trident Program web site

The Beretta A400 Xplor web site

Georgia Pellegrini’s blog

Last modified on Saturday, 21 November 2015 21:22
Irwin Greenstein

Irwin Greenstein is Publisher of Shotgun Life. Please send your comments to letters@shotgunlife.com.

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