How South Dakota Became Known For Its Pheasant Salad Sandwich

South Dakota: home to the famous Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Badlands National Park, and, of course, the lesser-known pheasant salad sandwich. 

Similar to a modern day chicken salad sandwich, a traditional version of this Aberdeen classic calls for 3 cups of finely chopped, cooked pheasant, 2 hard boiled eggs, shredded carrots, half of an onion, chopped celery, sweet pickle relish, and as much mayonnaise as your heart desires, according to Travel South Dakota.

When pheasants, a game meat originally native to China, were introduced to the U.S., the birds took a particular liking to the South Dakota regions, notably the Aberdeen area, according to Atlas Obscura; the pheasant population spiked in the 1940s and became a central hub for sport shooting, per The Food Dictator. Not only did the Midwestern state experience this exponential pheasant increase during the decade, they were also about to undergo the utter chaos of World War II.

Enter the pheasant salad sandwich

Whether heading to training or overseas deployment, traveling soldiers taking the Pacific Railroad were some of the first to experience the generous hospitality and entertainment of the WWII Aberdeen Pheasant Canteen Team (per Aberdeen Magazine) as well as a plethora of free pheasant salad sandwiches before departing, according to Travel South Dakota.

In 1943, around Christmastime, the conception of the sandwiches likely came from a large delivery of pheasants to the canteen, combined with the need to feed a sizable and unspecified number of soldiers, according to the South Dakota Historical Society Press. The other ingredients in the sandwich just happened to be what was available due to wartime rationing, but the pheasant was the real star of the dish, as poultry was still considered more of a luxury, per Atlas Obscura.

The canteen received an unprecedented amount of positive response to the sandwiches, which gained such popularity that Aberdeen residents decided to team up, throwing in all of their gas coupons and shotgun ammo to arrange a mass hunt for the birds (per The Food Dictator), thus rendering South Dakota the pheasant salad sandwich capital for decades to follow.