This annual pilgrimage began in 2010 — what I call “Richard’s Year of Hell.” Multiple orthopedic maladies, surgery, eight months of chronic pain and my dear mother, Dayton native Marion Simms, passed away in the middle of it all.
Large doses of oxycontin accompanied me through both the physical and emotional distress. When October came, I was in serious need of relief and had heard just enough about South Dakota to take the plunge. The trip got me off the oxy, but now I have a new addiction — South Dakota ducks and pheasants.
This year, Year 5, was another epic journey. Me and Ed McCoy traveled 3,158 miles in pursuit of game.
Of course I was especially excited by Road Trip 2014. For the second year we were accompanied by Britney, my two-and-a-half year old retriever.
Our primary destination was Lynn Lake Lodge near Webster, South Dakota… a place that truly cares about hunters and fishermen. A heated, indoor game cleaning area complete with skinning tables, water, sinks, hoses and all the equipment you need to turn fish, ducks, pheasants or any other game into a meal.
Owner Paul Johnson said he and his wife opened Lynn Lake in 1999 after the water started rising.
The Pothole Region of South Dakota is bizarre. There are no rivers or streams to carry water away. The rain and snow that falls stays there pretty much forever, except for evaporation and what very little bit leaches into the hard-packed clay soil. That means during periods of higher than normal rainfall the water rises, consuming roads and farms. Around Webster that began in the early 1990’s and it hasn’t stopped. Farms and homes have been inundated, roads closed and businesses ruined… including Johnson’s farm and snowmobile dealership.
“When you live in South Dakota you do what you have to do to survive,” said Johnson. “With all the lakes the fishing really got good. My brother and I opened a bait shop that eventually evolved into the lodge.”
The Johnson’s provide private accommodations and they don’t mind when you track mud in. In fact, it’s expected. They provide guests a special set of blankets specifically for the hunting dogs.
Paul said he has no regrets about the change in lifestyle, although it still involves seven-day work weeks.
“It’s a different kind of dirty,” he says. “But no, there are no regrets. The best part is that everybody here is on vacation and here to have fun.”
At Lynn Lake that means catching walleye, or shooting ducks and pheasant.
There are professional outfitters galore in South Dakota, but Ed and I are mostly “do it yourselfers.” Finding a place to hunt isn’t hard. The South Dakota Game & Fish Dept. owns, controls or leases more than five million acres of land for public access.
The great conservationist Aldo Leopold said, “To those devoid of imagination a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.”
South Dakota still has lots of blank places on the map. Obviously it is not all premium hunting & fishing, but there is plenty to go around… especially for duck hunters who are as sparse as hen’s teeth.
However at my advancing age I have finally come to realize something that sort of surprises me. I have learned that the anticipation of the hunt is just a good — and sometimes better — than the hunt itself. I find myself surfing the web and reading endless, soaking up information like a sponge. I know when all is said and done, I will spend five times as much time studying and anticipating the hunt as I will on the hunt… and that’s okay.
Don’t get me wrong. I love to be successful and shoot stuff. But that is not my “end goal.” The end goal is the learning, the experience and maybe, the failure — along with the sights, the sounds and the people of land and life outside my comfort zone.
Buddha is credited with saying, “It is better to travel well than to arrive.”
Ed and I did indeed, travel well.