(Editor's Note: This is the fourth installment in a journal as Richard Simms and partner Ed McCoy traveled on a hunting road trip to South Dakota. Click here for Entry Three.)
When I last left you, I was huffing and puffing from the first solo South Dakota duck hunt near Long Lake, S.D. My partner, Ed McCoy, would be flying into Aberdeen to join me at 10:30 p.m. Ed, ever-conscious of my health and well-being, had texted, "Don't wear yourself out before I get there."
So solely for Ed's benefit, I took his sage advice and picked a place to duck hunt this morning a mere 200-yard jaunt from a parking spot. As sunrise broke, I quickly realized that ducks don't like to be close to the road. Forget the fact that perhaps a grand total of two cars will travel this forsaken little South Dakota thoroughfare each day—the ducks didn't like it. It was about 10 a.m. when I started apologizing to Britney, my retriever who was bored senseless. I was close to packing it in when two of the Canada geese I'd been listening to in a nearby field all morning decided to make a move. Unfortunately for the geese, the path they chose carried them easily within range of my over and under and a load of steel. Both came down, one in the water and one in the overgrown field behind me.
This would be interesting—it was Britney's first-ever experience with geese. And these were big birds, easily weighing 12-14 pounds each. The bird that fell in the water stone-cold dead was easy. She got it back to shore, no problem.
Then, I sent her on the bird in the field, which unbeknownst to me was wounded and running away. Britney hit the track, nose in the grass and was hot on the trail. It didn't take long before she caught up and tried to pick the huge bird up as she would a duck. That wasn't going to happen—especially as the bird began to beat on her with flailing wings. That was too much for the little retriever. However, as I told Ed later, "She couldn't bring him back, but by golly, she held him down until I got there."
That afternoon, as previously planned, I picked up stakes from Long Lake, S.D., and moved the operation to a rented "hunter's house" in Eureka, S.D. I desperately needed to find a new hotspot to take Ed on his first hunting day in South Dakota. The situation looked bleak, however. This was opening day of pheasant season, and the fluorescent orange of pheasant hunters dotted the landscape everywhere I went. A grocery store in Eureka (population 856) told us later they sold 160 licenses for opening day, most of those nonresidents. Few public potholes I visited held ducks, but it was impossible for me to know if ducks had never been there or if they had been spooked by pheasant hunters—until I drove by the Morelock Farm late in the afternoon.
The lake was half on public land and half on private. It was not surrounded by pheasant habitat, so it had been undisturbed. As I peered across the lake with binoculars, it was covered with waterfowl, mostly on the private section, of course. And it appeared I had to cross private land even if I wanted to reach the public end. I roamed around and found Mark Morelock and his father, Marvin, repairing a fence.
As is usual in South Dakota, they gave me a queer look when I told them I wanted to duck hunt. Folks in South Dakota just don't do that. They look at a flock of ducks the way we look at a flock of starlings, wondering why anyone would want to waste good ammunition hunting them. That is a good thing for us "foreigners," however. Although farmers are very selective about whom they allow to pheasant hunt, most of them will gladly give you permission to duck hunt. Another farmer told me, "If you're just shootin' them [expletive deleted] ducks, you can go about anywhere you want in McPherson County."
The Morelocks were no different and welcomed us on their property.
After retrieving him from the Aberdeen "International" Airport, Ed and I made it back to our Eureka house well after midnight. After a full day hunting and scouting, it seemed my head barely hit the pillow when the 5 a.m. alarm rudely rang out. With a cold front moving in, we stepped out of the house to be greeted by a steady 15-20 mph northwest wind—the first real wind of this trip.
The Morelocks' lake didn't qualify as a pothole. It was "big water," a few hundred yards across, which meant it was easy for ducks to ignore us—especially when there were 200-300 ducks and coots rafted on the opposite side.
Throughout the morning, however, enough wayward ducks were curious enough to fight the wind and check out our decoys—falling victim to a well-placed string of steel shot, or sometimes not. As the morning went on, however, the wind intensified. According to the almanac, there were gusts up to 39 mph. That meant whitecaps on the lake and a handful of crippled ducks that were just too much for Britney to handle in the big waves. Fortunately, those were the only ducks of the trip we lost.
Temperatures in the low 30s with the stiff wind equaled a wind chill in the teens. Ed and I decided we'd had all we wanted with 11 ducks down—one shy of a limit. As is usually the case in South Dakota, it was a cool mixed bag: green-winged teal, gadwall, ringneck, scaup, widgeon, mallard and even one canvasback.
The afternoon meant another 100-plus miles on McPherson County back roads. Very happy to have another decision-maker on board, I handed off the guiding (location selection) duties to Ed. We wanted to find a small pothole, but we (or he) finally settled on another piece of big water holding several hundred ducks, geese and the ever-present tundra swans.
Tomorrow, we would hunt "Ed's Lake."
Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports.
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