Thursday, October 28, 2010

Final post about SD written on way back

October 22, 2010

Woke up to abundant sunshine and a gentle breeze. The best weather yet for being outdoors. A good breakfast of bacon, eggs, pancakes, coffee, and a glass of V8 tomato juice started out the day. The meal was prepared by Ken on a very well used 1960’s era oven and range unit.

The house that is Ken and Janet’s South Dakota home belonged to the grandmother of a local rancher who lives just about five miles up the road. Ken and Janet got it for a song. The plan is to make it the summer through fall home where they can train dogs and enjoy this great country. Ken really enjoys the people and mix of farming, ranching, open spaces that is the lifestyle of those in this part of South Dakota. I am finding a new affinity for these hearty individuals. They do not ask for handouts or government for help. They take on jobs that need to be done with a determination to accomplish whatever task in ahead. Their faces and bodies are weathered beyond their years. These folk, that call this area of our United States, home are the ones Ayn Rand admired in her writings.
Atlas Shrugged
During our thirty hour drive to Firesteel from Davis, California, we passed the time driving or being the passenger by listening to Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” It was the abridged version but still was approximately 12 hours. As we drove through towns and cities the further away from the San Francisco Bay Area, the more the story resonated with the tone that the individual still means something. But at the same time you see how the draw of the “big cities” and the easier life shown on tv and the movies over the last few generations have created the exodus out of places in the Midwest. But now some people I talk to are seeing some of the choices Ayn Rand’s characters had to come to grips with. The able and intelligent man and woman are starting to leave the statist regions where free enterprise and ambition are punished instead of rewarded. Here on the plains, your survival is still your responsibility. I truly like that. You see it in the eyes and voices of these quiet people. They have nothing to prove to anyone but themselves. To boast is profanity in these parts. God I like it here.

We are a two hour drive to the closest “big” city. Bismark, North Dakota, or “Rapid” (Rapid City, South Dakota). We took an hour drive due east to Mobridge, SD, for a few supplies and to look around. Mobridge, SD (bridge over the Missouri River) has a population in the low thousands.

 The Missouri River here is wide and cuts through a countryside with neither trees or shrubs that boarder the banks of the river. A cold looking sight. Abundant water in the river and very dry prairie hills all around.

Ken got Scarlet, Hank and Nelli got winter jackets to wear. Unlike Chloe and Bailey who have their cozy sleeping bags, Ken’s short-haired dogs have nothing to keep them warm when the temperatures drop below freezing. Running’s Farm and Fleet, in Mobridge is one of the most amazing of department stores.

 Here you could spend a dollar or five thousand dollars in just a short period of time. During the winter, Ken and I talked about how the locals would shop. “Well,” Ken told me, “ you’d come to Mobridge maybe once every couple weeks for supplies but most-likely, you’d drive up to Bismark or Rapid with a long list of things needed if the roads were clear. There you would have the Lowe’s and bigger discount stores that would make the trip worthwhile.“

Noon came and we came back to gather the dogs and guns to head back to some our favorite hunting spots. Maybe 50% of our hunting has been done in a two square mile area a little to the northwest of the house. This “walk-in only” area boarders Bernie Boysen’s farm and was an area of coal mining 50 years ago. Here there are spoil piles that were covered with dirt maybe 20 years ago to hide the scaring done to the landscape by the strip-mining operations

. Now, nature has tuned into a great spot to hunt pheasant. The little draws have water and cover. The area is just west of corn and wheat fields. Bailey and Nelli hunted the open spaces, tulle patches and around the little ponds that dot the landscape. Our take for the afternoon was just one pheasant. Bailey’s point is getting better every day as he finding more and more pheasant.

 Many of the flushed birds are hens that Bailey and I watch fly away. We are finding about ten hens to every rooster, but that is how nature needs it to be. The hens produce the next generation of birds. Two million roosters will be harvested this year out of South Dakota. South Dakota is the mecca for pheasant hunting for good reason. The chief among them is that the state wants hunters to come here. It is a big part of the local economy. “Find a need and fill it.” Government here works well with the land owners in mutual cooperation and benefit.

There is a new intensity in his point. He loves hunting and he is good at it. I have my hunting dog that I was not looking for until I owned Chloe. I had messed her up early introducing the gun too early. So Bailey came to me and we are having a great time learning how to be a team in the fields. It will take a few years. I am very happy I had Bailey professionally “broke” before the trip. He has now worked “wild birds” for five days and even though he has not stayed steady to shot or given me a consistent retrieves, the basics are firmly established. So upland bird hunting is a team sport and the team of Bailey and Rod should do just fine.

October 22, 2010

Last day in South Dakota. Warmest so far with projected highs in the 70’s today. We started packing for the long trip home in the morning and then took to the east one more time. We were headed out to Moureau Park, about six miles south of Timerlake. We are too early to hunt but this was on Ken’s to do list for future trips. On the way we stopped by a deserted farm that we had seen a few days before just outside of Firesteel. We jokingly called it Rod’s place.

 When we had seen it from the road, the windowless house and outbuildings looked in surprisingly good shape. Now upon closer inspection we found a house that nature was quickly returning back to the earth. The large barn that had appeared fine from the road had collapsed in the back. The property was nice but the buildings were only good for firewood. Rod’s place was a bust.
Moureau Park covered maybe 2,000 acres with a small lake as its centerpiece. Here in late October the valley surrounding the lake was a picture of pastoral serenity. Man had created a sanctuary for wildlife away from the blowing plains that surround these small canyons.

. Winter is coming and man and nature are preparing for six months of tough conditions. But for now peace is only broken every once in a while by the sound of a rifle or shotgun in the distance. People around these parts hunt to put food in the freezer to feed the family. So the sound of the gun is a sound of nature here in South Dakota and most of the upper central part of this great country.

One last trip into Timberlake for Ken to order a dozen special Vizsla logo’d hats for Willow wynd Kennels (Ken and Janet’s kennel name) puppy buyers. Tess (Ken and Janet’s fourth Vizsla) is home with her seven new pups. Ken wants to support this small community that will be their home for a few months every year in their retirement.

Noon came and we headed home to get the dogs and hunting gear for one last outing.

Bailey even sore was ready to go
   We had not found the abundance of birds that we had envisioned. These abundant pheasant live more in the fields southeast of the Missouri River. In those parts of the state, pheasant can number over 200 per square mile. The flip side is that hunters number 10 per square mile and most of the hunting lands are private property where the owners request a “hunting access” fee. More pheasant but more people. We are happy with our fewer birds and many fewer people. Sharptail grouse live more in the area we hunt and this was a bird Ken had a great desire to hunt this trip.

Our last outing had Bailey and I taking a “walk-in area only” side of the road that looked promising for pheasant as Ken and Hank took to the other side with its wide-open prairie grasses holding the elusive sharptail. We planned to hunt two hours and meet back up at the truck. Hank’s big running style suits these prairie lands where he can traverse huge swaths of cover quickly and in search of covies of sharptail.

My side of the road had ravines and mounds that were a easterly continuation of the coal worked fields a half century ago we had hunted the day before. One of the highlights of our hunting experience occurred around one of the “potholes” of a cottontail-lined lake. Bailey ran on tender feet around the lake. He had learned the pheasant like the tullies and hunts these areas carefully. About 15 yards ahead of me Bailey came to a slam stop point. I gave him a gentle “woop” and walked past to the bush he was pointing intensely. When I rustled the bush, a large cock pheasant flew out of the cottontails and out over the lake. One shot brought the bird down into the water.

Bailey arrives at downed pheasant. 

 Without hesitation Bailey busted through the small stand of cottontails and into the water. After a quick thirty yards of swimming,

Bailey brings the big bird back to shore

 Bailey arrived at the 5 pound bird and taking it into his mouth turned and swam back to shore. Once he got to land and about five feet from me, he deposited the soaking bird down and gave himself a good shake.

 I couldn’t have been happier. A water retrieve was the last part of the puzzle I wanted to witness my new hunting partner achieve. The rest of the hour and a half had us wandering around more “potholes” and taking in the remains of a huge dragline crane carcass was good but anti-climactic.

 A few more missed shots and my gun misfiring a couple times (something I need to get looked into at a gunsmith at home) closed out my hunting trip to South Dakota 2010. Ken had had wins with Hank and Scarlet in the field also and as we both headed back to Firesteel, we reflected on six days of hunting pheasant and sharptail. We had come across over 300 birds in our walking. Most out of range for a good shot, some in range and missed and a few taken.

 Our young dogs started out last Sunday full of energy but not part of a “hunting team.” By this afternoon as the sun was setting, all four dogs, Hank, Scarlet, Nelli and Bailey were “getting it.”

 Next year, the dogs will be better hunters and so will we. The conditions in which we hunted could not get much better (Ken wanted a light shower about mid-week,) in our opinion.

 We were leaving the fields, man and dog, tired but extremely happy with the choice to drive 1,500 miles from home to walk over 50 miles in the hills of north-central South Dakota. Tomorrow is the long trip back to “civilization.” I’m ready to go back with renewal of body and mind.

                  Great memories that will last a life time. My first hunting adventure. But not my last.

Back to work BBQ of pheasant and salmon.  Both wild and delicious.


Ken and Janet said...

You did a great job portraying the feel of the trip and the area. Good job Rod! I truly enjoyed the trip and hope we can do another next year.

T.Vollmer said...

This was a very good read, Rod.
I really enjoyed your photo journey along with your story. These dogs are so amazing!! It just makes my heart sing when the really get to Do what they were born to Do. Thanks for sharing.