Tom grew up in Milwaukee, bartended in Wauwatosa in the '70s and moved here in 1984.
Commentary, observations and musings about the outdoors, life in general and maybe Tosa politics and personalities will be the order of the day. He savors a lively debate as much as terrific cooking.
It was early Monday morning when Braumeister and I rolled-up to The Refuge to fetch our pheasants from the freezer. This was the close to a singularly memorable pheasant hunt for the usual gang.
As we were rummaging-around in the dark Randi Dix materialized - padding about in flannel pants, flip-flops and smoking a cigarette.
It was 19 degrees.
You see Randi has been guiding our hunts over a number of years and had some encouraging words since we hadn't met our limit of pheasants this year.
In his distinctive and gravely voice he intoned - You boys did a good job. Plenty of groups your size only got five, maybe eight birds. The winds have been awful. You brought them from Wisconsin I hope you take them back home with you.
Randi is not known for long-winded dissertations. Nor effusive of praise. So it's best to bask in it's glow when freely offered.
Spink County may be the heart of South Dakota pheasant hunting - but that doesn't necessarily mean that the hunting is always easy. My philosophical wife would tell you that is why it is called hunting. If it was easy then it would be called shopping. This year's trip offered more than it's share of challenges.
It started when our number shrank from fourteen to nine. In the pheasant hunting world more is not only merrier but it is more efficient. Things worsened when only a few days before departure Girlfriend came down with a still undiagnosed ailment and ended-up in the doggie hospital. Fewer guys and one less experienced dog. Probably just as well since I couldn't walk anyway. This year the guy with the bad hip was relegated to the position of blocker.
What does the term blocker mean? Tell us more about how to hunt ringnecks.
Good question. Visualize a half mile of standing corn, grass, or tall and tangly cattails. What you do is send one to three hunters and a dog or two to the far end of where you want to end-up. These are your blockers. The remaining hunters start walking towards the blockers - slowly. Moving back and forth all the while keeping the dogs close and allowing the pooches to work. These are the drivers. Two of them act as flankers - walking the left and right edges a distance ahead of the drivers.
Pheasants run before they'll take to flight so the whole idea is to slowly push the birds in the direction of the blockers. A bird that flushes prematurely and takes to the air might get shot by a flanker, driver or blocker. When the flankers meet-up with the blockers everyone lets loose the hounds and there are sometimes birds all over the place. You can only shoot roosters (not hens) so you identify your target at the end of a gun barrel. Acquiring your target, identifying it and making an accurate shot within a matter of seconds isn't exactly the easiest thing in the world to do. Add a gale-force wind and you get an idea of how interesting things can get.
If you go through all these motions only to drop a single bird you understand why it is not shopping.
Speaking of shopping - you can purchase a smoked pheasant at Sendik's on North Avenue and avoid all the nonsense of investing in dogs, dog training, dog crates, dog food, understanding spouses, trucks, shotguns and ammo. Good luck finding good times at the meat counter however.
Day One - Winds of 20 to 30 miles per hour. The good news is you can drive birds from down wind and they don't have an easy time hearing you. The bad news is they sit tight unless a dog is skilled enough to sniff them out in a stiff wind - or you step on them. The worse news is when they flush and turn into the wind they take-off like an F-16 fighter jet. Good luck hitting one.
The first day Sid lost his dog and Lawyer got a sharp stick in the eye. Unsuccessful in locating the lost Springer Spaniel we pressed on without Sid but with a cussing one-eyed Lawyer. Things were not looking good.
The first day closed on a bright note. Sid was found by his dog and Lawyer got a taste of rural South Dakota healthcare and returned with an eye patch. Pirate jokes were featured prominently that evening.
Day Two - Winds of 30 to 40 miles per hour. Dust too. Dust in your firearm. Dust in your throat. Dust in your eyes. Dust in Lawyer's good eye. Dust in your lunch. Dust everywhere. Braumeister's firearm fails him at the most inopportune of moments. Dust Bowl jokes are featured prominently that evening.
Day Three - Winds of 40 to 50 miles an hour. Colder too. Overnight rains reduced the dust to tolerable levels but Lawyer was down for the count that day. Eight standing hunters. We are now accustomed to hunting each and every legal shooting minute each day - 10 AM to sundown. There is no such thing as limiting-out by 2 or 3 PM and kicking back, relaxing, enjoying a leisurely happy hour after feeding the dogs followed by an equally leisurely dinner. Exhaustion is featured prominently that evening. Just about everyone was in bed following the end of the Packer game.
The good news is that we were only two birds shy of our legal limit for the entire group. Considering the polling of hunters in a local watering hole and at a Minnesota rest stop I think we did just fine. Aside from the sore right shoulder I have no complaints.
One more thing.
Totally accepting of the possibility of canceling my travel plans on 24 hour notice Jill suggested I take Sister since Girlfriend wasn't going to make the trip. While not quite ready for prime time this eight month-old pup has exhibited some blonde ambition. She handled a ten hour drive without a hitch, had some quality bonding time with me, caught a taste of the excitement, worked on her basics (like staying close and not chasing deer) and found her first bird.
It doesn't get much better than that.