Monday, October 25, 2010

Getting my feet on South Dakota Soil

Firesteel, South Dakota, 7:00 a.m. Mountain Time.

Just got up after a very long 2 days getting here from Walnut Creek, California; 1,618 miles and thirty-two hours later, we arrived at noon on opening day of pheasant hunting season.

Ken and Janet’s house that they bought here in Firesteel is one of just a handful of buildings still standing. The home is over 100 years old, and the neighboring houses are either collapsed to the ground or are heading in that direction.

The land is gentle rolling hills covered with prairie grasses or fields of crops that are harvested or ready for harvest. Just to the west is a stretch of sunflower plants that goes on for as far as you can see.

The sounds that you hear through the windows are not those of cars, trucks, or kids playing in the street but those of birds in the trees, the occasional farm tractor heading to another field, or the solo shotgun blast far off in the distance.

These chronicles will be of my adventures with Bailey and Chloe on the plains pheasant hunting, working around Ken’s place, visiting the local businesses, but mostly doing lots of walking in the fields.

Hundreds of miles of fields surround us here in Firesteel. The stress of city life is draining from my body very quickly and is being replaced by a calm -- a calm that I don’t understand yet. A simple calm of nature and man’s real relationship to the land.

Sunday, October 18, 2010

Yesterday around noon Ken and I headed to Timberlake, the county seat of Dewey with a population of just under 500 souls.

The big event of the day in town and for the county was the auction of the only hardware store for miles around and the auctioning of all the inventory. We had gone into town to see if we could find the hunting regulations at a store. Being that it was Sunday, all 20 or so businesses in the town were closed except the gas station. Everyone in town it seemed was at the hardware store auction.

Out behind the store in the alley stood hearty country folk of all ages. The auctioneer stood in front of a folding table that was loaded with items from the shelves of Joe’s Hardware. He had his microphone in his left hand as he chanted the “auctioneer’s melody” of “who’ll give me 5, 5, do I hear 5? Ok, 7.50, 7.50…SOLD! Next item, 5 quarts of engine oil, can I get 2 dollars?” This was going to take all day. There were thousands of items and most would go for 3 to 10 dollars. But in the 45-degree cold of a cloudy Sunday, it was like social hour. Everyone knows everyone and, after all, a bargain is a bargain.

Ken and I had come to hunt pheasant. South Dakota hunting laws allow two 5-day hunting permits for out-of-state hunters. We would hunt 6 days, so it was agreed that Ken would hunt Sunday and I would use my last day on Friday. So at one 1:00 in the afternoon, the “walk-in” hunting areas were open to the public. The clock starts at noon in the Central Time Zone, but SD is split between Mountain and Central and we were in the Mountain Time Zone. We could hunt the fields from 1:00 until sunset, or about 6:00.

Our young dogs exploded out into the fields. Bailey and Scarlet, both about 2 years old, flew out into the prairie in search of something -- they did not know what. But they are hunting dogs and they were hunting. About ten 10 minutes in, Scarlet made first pheasant contact and it flushed. Off Bailey and Scarlet ran - 200 then 300 yards away, the display on our GPS trackers told us. They came back eventually and we continued our hunt. About 20 minutes in, as Ken and I approached a tree line, Scarlet and Bailey were up ahead in the trees.

Over the next 2 minutes, 50 pheasant took to the air as our young dogs crowded the birds into the air. All too far to take good shots at, Ken just held his shotgun as we watched. There are birds here, but we have to tone our young charges down.

After about forty minutes, Scarlet and Bailey started to “mellow out” and started to allow us to join in the hunt. Bailey went on point on a bush. It was wonderful to see. The hen held until I flushed. Unfortunately, it was a hen and only cock pheasants can be taken.

Ken put Scarlet away in her crate back in the truck and then took out Nellie and then Hank for one-hour hunts each. Since I was not hunting, I worked Bailey and scouted for Ken’s dogs as they ranged over the hilly terrain.

A good cup of coffee and a shower started Monday morning before the sunrise. Watched the sun come over the hills from the east. The sky was clear with a brisk wind coming out of the north. My Nikon camera has been employed in my effort to “catch” the feel of South Dakota life. I don’t think I will be able to do it with a camera. It would take a “Dothea Lange” type of artist to accomplish that.

As the sun came up over the eastern hills, Bailey, Chloe, and I took a brisk, short walk in the sub- freezing temperature outside through the fields around the house. This gave me an appreciation of the South Dakota upland bird hunting law that starts the hunt in the afternoon. The thermometer in the house shows 28. The weather service radio tells in that mechanical, computer-generated Minnesota-accented voice, “ …for Dewey County, 34 with wind chill factor down to 23 degrees. Fog dropping down from the northwest during the morning hours. Highs in the afternoon in the upper 50’s.”

This afternoon I will grab my 20-gauge CZ shotgun loaded with 2 3/4-inch #6 shot for my first real wild bird hunt. Ken and I will try another area today. Yesterday we might have hunted two square miles -- 498 miles left. There is that nice spot close to Isabel about five miles west that we will try today.

Now that it is Monday, the stores are once again open. We will make the 9-mile trip back to Timberlake to grab some groceries and a few supplies. Need to get a mouse trap. Seems the field mice have a fondness for Gold Medal Flour.


Ken and Janet said...

Yes - the mice (now deceased thanks to awesome traps sold by Tammy at Isabel Coop and Hardware) did like the flour!

I'm almost able to walk normally after the blisters and aches! A couple more days and I'd be ready to go back! Great trip buddy! You're doing a fantastic job telling the story and expressing the flavor of South Dakota.

coot57 said...

Good story so far. Keep going.