We started the Storm with a smooth pick-up at MSP on Halloween. Dean and Hunter came in from Atlanta and Bentley and I from DC. We all arrived with-in minutes of each other and Tommy in the Black Silvy was there to collect us and all of our belongings. Basically, nothing had changed from 2006, except Hunter. He had grown, filled out and become a handsome young man.
We headed to Kari and Dan’s to transfer gear and say hi to them and Lilli. Little did we know that Joe the Plumber, complete with uniform and butt crack would be there to say hi, offer gifts to the soon-to-be birthday boy and share a Leine with us. Lillie, the Halloween bumble bee was asleep, nonetheless we had some good times and merriment and then headed into the dark prairie skies to Morris and the Old Sunwood Inn. Grandpa Doug was waiting there in the room with the heat at tropical levels. We had some laughs, a drink and hit the sack.
Entering Dakota Territory
At first light on Saturday a resplendent rooster greeted us, just like a SD Game and Fish plant, a few yards inside the state line. Little did we know it would take us three days of hunting in SD to bag our first rooster after such a glorious site.
Before we left Morris that morning for SD we had a Red-Letter Breakfast with the aforementioned party, plus Dave Amberg and Paul Rentz—old friends of Dean, Doug and Me, in some way. Tom and Hunter greeted them for the first time. It’s hard to recount the good feeling of the food, stories and number of laughs at that table that morning, and the surprise in the parking lot as hundreds of Canadas taunted us as we said, ”So long.”
Near Lake City as we crested the SD Coteau, ducks were in most of the ponds and Dean harvested our first bird. First blood. It was our first and last grey duck. Benny, like a prison inmate out on good behavior and me as the warden, scooped-up the hen gadwall in the road ditch. Game on.
Ducks were on the Coteau, but permission was tough. We headed west and fell off it to the James River plains. We had clear skies and mild weather. Benny found a full mallard drake on the shores of a small, grassy creek after I dropped it. A few hours and a few miles later, we found the mallards pouring into standing, flooded corn. We learned then and there about how much rain they had in NE SD and what it did to the crops and to the ducks. I pleaded with some young farmers/duck hunters who were in their combines , picking their wet corn. I begged for permission to head into this beehive on the other side of the road. They had seen the mallards pouring into the standing corn. Truth be known, these guys had a whole section of such action, and they knew it and knew that it was more than they could take advantage of. Finally they said, “Go ahead.”
We hustled in there, as the mallards dove in, like kids to candy. We enjoyed every minute of the spectacle until the sun set, which happened all too quickly. We came out of there in short order, hot with muddy boots and many mallards.
The Ecstasy and the Agony
That Saturday night while at the Hunter’s Inn, we received permission from a wonderful fellow to hunt a flooded bean field that held thousands of ducks and geese. We were pumped and due to our excitement, the shift in times due to DST changes and my inability to figure out ‘what the hell time it really was’ we got up and set out the decoys and ourselves way too early the next morning. Hunter and I went into the middle of the wet beans and Dean and Tom held next to the high and dry road. The ducks did not wait to come in. Hunter and I watched a true waterfowl spectacle. First light broke and ducks from all varieties buzzed us from every way. We just watched. There was going to be no hurry. We saw to the northeast where the mallards were heading. It was the flooded, standing corn. Here we go again.
We moved to a fence line next to the flooded corn and soon Hunter took an incoming drake. Nice shot. What followed was a true waterfowler’s delight—a clear, mild day with northern mallards ‘workin’’ and falling out of the sky to where we were. The Ecstasy. Soon greenheads began to fall to the gun and they kept coming.
Meanwhile, Dean was working the road and stalking Canada geese, collecting his limit of Canadian geese by incredible means.
The Agony of the morning came when my gun jammed as the mallards circled. It was jammed for the rest of the trip. Hunter and I were short of our limit. More Agony came when Hunter tried his damndest to connect on these big birds at short and long range with his new gun but he just seemed snakebit. We swithched guns, I missed too but we did collect a few more. The agony continued at the end of the morning when the SD Game and Fish Warden checked us as we came out and found a gun w/o a plug in it and fined Tommy. He was zealous in his efforts to comb through everything on us and in our vehicles.
On Monday we hunted on landed farmed by a colony of Hutterites—the locals call them the Hoots. They are from German stock and practice a socialistic, communal life style. We spoke on Sunday with the Farm Manager who oversees 6000 acres of production plus all the related livestock. He had ducks in his flooded corn. He couldn’t have been nicer or more interesting. We hunted their land on Monday morning but only scratched a few ducks because someone had been there the night before. As we pulled the decoys and began walking out, the geese came over us as we had hoped. What else is new?
We ended Monday on a wild-goose chase. We spotted the single greatest concentration of light geese any of us had ever seen landing on a body of water. We ate chili, marveled at them, chased a pheasant on the lake’s edge and planned our attack. Dean and Hunter set-up in a field for them while Tommy and I pursued other means which meant asking to get on another flooded cornfield across from the light geese. It had mallards and geese in it. We were turned down. Tommy, Benny and I struck out for some pheasants and ended with up two mallards. One after Tommy waded into the flooded corn in his stocking feet to retrieve it. Benny proudly carried the bird back to the truck for us.
Tuesday’s sunrise on land of the Hoot’s produced visual wonders that are famous in the northern plains. It made up for the lack of Canadas that never appeared in our spread which was right next to their colony. The sun, the range of colors, the cloud patterns, the rain tornado, the waves of migrating birds with a mysterious single bird soaring in the mix created a changing picture of interest for us for over two hours. We left the field empty handed but not disappointed. That was right when Tommy’s chili began to work on all of us at a fearsome rate.
Sand Lake and History
We headed west. In the afternoon, we found a wet section where the mallards were piling into flooded corn and beans. A wonderful old-timer working on drying his crop gave us permission. We waded into the mallards and they arose in waves. We came out with a nice brace of drakes.
After off-loading some cleaned birds to a local bachelor, we headed west to where the James River forms the Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge. We crossed it and marched some pheasant land on its west edge that Tommy secured for us. Finally we had our first rooster courtesy of Tommy. Me and Benny collected our second and we thought we had our third but it took all of what Tommy and I had to offer and still ran off before Benny could close on it. A few other cocks were shot at but none were dispatched. We headed to our hotel.
Presidential history was made that night but due to the lack of television coverage at the Hunter’s Inn in Britton, SD, we were not able to follow it. Welcome to the Northern Plains.
Oh for the Robo
Dean and Hunter took off to see Doug and head to MSP for their flight home to Atlanta. Tommy and I were to head through SD onto Balaton. We all left early. Tommy and I wanted to start in the cornfield again east of Sand Lake. It proved to be a good choice. Ducks and pheasants were everywhere and were calling in the fog as we were getting ready. We watched a rooster try to spot us for a few minutes before we headed in. We dropped some drakes, continued on and wished we had a robo over some beans since they wanted to come in to them sooo bad. Our SD Game Warden said that a robo is all the decoy you need. We left happy but wishing for more.
We found some nice public pheasant ground near Sand Lake. Shortly after opening time. Benny flushed rooster that flew to me and which I missed twice , but Tommy reached out and touched him from over 60-70 yards going away. A great shot! Benny did the collection.
We packed up and headed south and found half-sections filled with light geese but could not get on. We ran into ‘Cover Girl’ who farmed with her husband, and we asked her for permission, but it was too late. They all lifted and she drove away in her red Escalade all made-up, pouty and determined.
On our journey out of Northern SD toward Balaton we saw the full spectacle of the migration. Geese topped every hill, ducks swarmed every pond and pheasants were leaving every cornfield for evening cover. We knew a storm was on the way. Tommy and I marveled at it all and collected, with Benny’s help, a very nice rooster. Several others slipped out of our grasp.
Wet and Wild
We arrived in Balaton that evening in time for a warm meal. Our purpose was to be with and help Grandma Phyl. We set out to do that the next morning since the wet and windy dawn made it easy to sleep in and not worry about hunting. Lot of tasks were accomplished in the house and it was great poking around the house and helping out. We did journey out later in the rain to see what pheasants we could locate. We saw them huddles in farm groves and underneath no hunting signs. Tommy and Benny chased after 5 roosters right at town’s edge but they knew the game and took off early. The same thing happened the next morning when the rain turned to snow. Due to needing to get to the airport, we decided not to walk with a local friend Bob Villa but we thought we would just do a quick drive after breakfast. We saw plenty of roosters and one presented itself nicely but it flew out on the opposite side of a drifted in willow tree and Tommy did not catch up with it. That turned out to be our ‘last whack’.
We loaded up and with Benny in his usual spot in the front of the pick-up we headed to MSP. Joe the Plumber was around and we chatted with him for a bit and off-loaded some mallards. The flight home was uneventful. South Dakota was a ‘nice package’ with good times with family and friends, no major travel issues and lots of birds to see, but it left us a bit short of full satisfaction, for some reason. Maybe it was hearing, “no” too much or not having many pheasant chances or not being able to fool more geese—I don’t know. We did have great action on mallards which made up for a lot.
All of our experiences, plus those form previous hunts will be factored into the planning for The Storm of 2009.
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