WEBSTER, SD – Cruising down the highway at 55 mph just after sunset, Ross Malone and I were on an emotional high. After two days of duck hunting the frozen South Dakota pothole country without success, we had finally located an area which was harboring tens of thousands of ducks and geese. The following day held great promise.
It all came to a sudden and crashing halt (literally). In the passenger seat, I was studying a map on my iPhone when I heard Ross shout a word I can’t write here. I looked up in time to see a massive whitetail buck leap from the roadside cattail swamp directly into our path. No driver in the world could have avoided the collision that came next.
On impact Ross and I both had a vivid view as one of the buck’s antlers broke off and skittered across the hood. The deer then disappeared beneath the truck, thankfully (for us) not bouncing up and coming through the windshield. Ross managed to hold steady course slowing down although the bumper and fender made a horrific noise grinding against the right front tire.
Long story short, we were fine. The big buck was not and we’re guessing between four and five thousand dollars damage to Ross’s truck. The good news is that with some minor work and application of band aids (a.k.a. duct tape) the next day, it is drivable and we can continue our hunt. Ross has handled the calamity and damage to his truck like a champ, knowing that as the Shirelles sang, “Momma said there’d be days like this.”
The bad news was that when we resumed hunting in the afternoon, the thousands of ducks and geese we watched wanted absolutely nothing to do with our decoy spread.
Those who have followed my writings for a while know that a Fall duck hunting pilgrimage is my routine each year. Last year found me in Michigan, but most years I’ve come to South Dakota. There are great numbers of ducks plus thousands and thousands of acres of publicly-accessible land and plentiful flooded potholes.
But this year there is one major problem – the plentiful potholes I normally hunt are frozen blocks of ice.
In order to hook up and hunt with Avery Outdoors Pro-Staff members, Tyler and Samantha Andrews, Ross and I pushed our hunt a week. It turned out to be a critical week as temperatures plummeted. Even after two days of high temperatures in the 40’s, the potholes remain locked up solid. Today temperatures are plummeting again.
When potholes freeze ducks and geese concentrate on huge bodies of water that remain unfrozen, or the sheer volume of waterfowl keeps the water open. Usually in the afternoon, they come off the water to feed in the surrounding dry fields of harvested corn and soybeans.
Fortunately Ross came prepared for some dry field hunting, but mostly, our relatively meager spread of decoys has not proven very attractive to large flocks of mallards. Most waterfowl hunters in the area are hauling huge trailers crammed full of dozens and dozens of decoys that can imitate huge flocks of waterfowl best suited for hunting these kinds of conditions.
Tuesday afternoon while pheasant hunting, Ross and I found a partially-harvested field of corn that seemed perfect for our situation. Hidden in the corn, and beneath a thick layer of fog that hung in the 45 degree air all day, a drake mallard finally fell victim to our decoys. My brand new Weatherby SA-08 has now been christened by blood.
We will spend Wednesday afternoon camped out in same field, only today we will be there in sub-freezing temperatures and a 20 mph wind.
Hunters admittedly can be an egotistical and competitive lot. All of our buddies always want to know, “How many have you killed.”
It is a blow to the ego when you must respond with, “Virtually nothing – unless you want to count the huge buck we killed with our truck.”
But ever since I began making this annual Fall hunting pilgrimage in 2010, I have often said (and written), “The journey is far more important than the destination.”
What I kill (or don’t kill) is far less important than the things we see, the experiences we have – the good ones and the bad ones – and the people we meet.
Ross and I look forward to the arrival of the Andrews from their home in Minnesota tomorrow. Maybe they’ll have a few tricks up their sleeve – or some magic bullets.
Regardless, we will make new friends and “Enjoy the journey.”
To be continued….