(Editor's Note: This is the second installment in a journal as Richard Simms and partner Ed McCoy traveled on a hunting road trip to South Dakota. Click here for Entry One.)
I was up and away from The Ranch in southeastern Kansas well before sunrise. It was easier to leave Steve Matt's little outdoor paradise when I couldn't see it very well.
My destination on this day was Long Lake, S.D.—647 miles away. I was settled in for the 10-hour drive when, not long after sunrise, my newly updated iPhone beeped out a ringtone I'd never heard. Looking down, I saw something about "Facetime"; hit "accept"; and—lo and behold—my daughter, Tiffany Simms, appeared and said, "Hi, Dad."
To the under-30 crowd, this is no big deal. In fact, it is status quo. I, however, am far enough along in years to have read Dick Tracy comic books. In those pages, we all remember the famous detective had a watch that served as a two-way radio. Incredibly, he could actually talk to "The Chief" by just speaking into his watch.
Tiffany lives in Bangkok, Thailand, on the exact opposite side of the world. As I sat on the side of I-35 in southeastern Kansas, I felt very much like Dick Tracy, talking face-to-face with my little girl on the other side of the world. Travel where you want these days, it is very hard to actually be "out of touch." During my travels, my partner, Ed McCoy—standing by to fly up and join me soon—could track my progress and exact hunting spots via the Find Friends app. It was a little spooky knowing I was being "watched," but I digress.
I had reservations to stay in a room at the Long Lake Bar & Grill the following night. But if I could make the 10-hour drive, I needed to begin my stay one night early. With my trusty iPhone, I dialed up owner Shirley Wolff. This is an excerpt of our conversation:
Me: Is it OK if I get there a day early?
Shirley: Sure, we'll try and get the water turned on for you. Be sure and get gas in Leola. There's no gas station in Long Lake.
Me: I'll get there about 9 p.m. How do I find you?
Shirley: Easy, we'll be the only place in town open. Just look for the neon beer signs.
Shirley does not lie. The Long Lake Bar & Grill is the only business open in town, day or night. It, quite honestly, is a dying town. Gary Wolff, Shirley's husband, said about 30 people live there—except during hunting season, when the population increases by about 50 percent, depending on how many hunters Shirley can pack into her very few rooms.
In the evening, after the hunt, a few locals and all the hunters gather in the bar/dining room. Shirley does all the cooking. Gary mixes all the drinks and provides the entertainment with stories based largely on a lifetime of surviving South Dakota winters.
"The coldest I remember was minus 52," he said. "But minus 30 is pretty much routine."
Remind me not to go to South Dakota when winter really sets in.
At 70 years plus, Shirley says she's ready to get out of the bar business.
"I may not be here if you come back next year," she said. "But it really depends on someone buying this place. If this place closes, Long Lake really will die, and I don't want that. I love Long Lake."
But back to hunting: My first full day in Long Lake was spent driving 150 miles of back roads, binoculars in hand, checking out the many potholes on the numerous tracts of public hunting land. South Dakota game and fish folks, along with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, provide a vast amount of public land for hunting—easy to find via a paper atlas or via a GPS-driven iPhone app.
On my scouting day, I looked at a lot of empty water, however. We knew we were early, but my day job dictates this was when I had to go. Hundreds of miles to the north, in North Dakota, my friends were shooting lots of ducks. It was quickly clear that in South Dakota we would have to work a bit harder. At the end of the day, I had a half-dozen potential spots marked on the map within 20 minutes of Long Lake.
Tomorrow, Britney and I would hunt ... finally.
Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports.
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