— By Chris Hull
Let’s face it. Many of us live where we do because of the outdoor opportunities we have nearby. We choose to live “out in the boondocks” so we can be … well, close to the boondocks. The boondocks — or “sticks” as many people call them — are fun places to be and great places to make memories.
These outdoor opportunities — hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, boating, etc. — have a high value for me, and I’m guessing they have a high value for you and your family, as well.
The months of September, October and November are why many of us put up with freezing cold, scorching heat and two-hour drives to the nearest airport. However, prioritizing your opportunities each fall can be difficult, if not impossible.
Archery and rifle deer seasons: You aren’t the only one in the county who knows about that awesome buck living in the wetland complex west of town. Every day you aren’t in the treestand is a chance for another hunter to harvest that monster.
Pheasant season: We only get three months to chase South Dakota’s most famous export. You feed and train those dogs year-round, and every day you aren’t out tromping through sloughs, grasslands, shelterbelts and food plots is a day wasted with man’s best friend.
Waterfowl season: You watched those wood ducks and pintails hatch from chicks on your local Waterfowl Production Area. Goose numbers are high, and migrating greenhead mallards won’t stick around for long. You have a college tuition’s worth of decoys and layout blinds taking up half of a garage stall, so you better get out and use that stuff!
Fall fishing: The lakes are nearly empty, and fall walleyes and perch are strapping on the feedbag for winter. Better take advantage of the best bite of the year and get a few more fillets for the neighborhood fish fry.
Given so many world-class opportunities, how do you choose? This very question gave way to a discussion that three friends and I had back in the day — think mid-1990s when northeastern South Dakota’s influx of water was pretty new. At the time we were all college-aged kids who had little money and plenty of time, and we all thought we had the answers to just about everything. As a result, we came up with the crazy idea that for one weekend each fall we were going to choose not to choose.
Go ahead and read that again. We were choosing not to choose.
I don’t remember who came up with the name, because I wish we would have thought about it a little harder, but someone suggested we try and do the “South Dakota Slam.” The name stuck, and from there we just ran with it — we’d take a day each fall when the four of us would each attempt to accomplish the following outdoor objectives:
- Shoot a limit of Canada geese.
- Shoot a limit of mallards.
- Shoot a limit of pheasants.
- Catch a limit of walleyes, with one fish being over 20 inches.
- Catch at least five 12-inch perch.
- There were three rules:
1. All four of us had to hunt and fish together as a group.
2. Three or more of us had to accomplish all the tasks.
3. We were not allowed to use a boat.
At one point we discussed one of our friends filling his archery tag, as well, but we thought since he was the only one to actually have a license that this didn’t make sense.
The first time we tried to complete the slam we failed miserably. In hindsight, I would say it was due to two factors: over-confidence and lack of planning. We lived in the Glacial Lakes region of South Dakota, for Pete’s sake! There were honkers, ducks, roosters and fish everywhere!
What we found is that in order to succeed, scouting and pre-fishing were going to be key.
The first year’s effort we had scouted for geese and found a few ducks in the field we were going to hunt. What really hurt us was that we didn’t look hard enough at the ducks. We saw birds, and at the time that was good enough.
Well, we spent the early morning covered up in honkers and quickly shot our limits. These were local birds — big, strong and fairly easy to pattern. Our mallards were a different story. While we had a great duck hunt, we only shot few greenheads. Local teal, wigeon and wood ducks filled our bag.
We spent the rest of that first day shore fishing for perch and spent the evening scouting for the perfect spot to hunt ducks and geese. We found it, but the next day brought another lesson learned, as the perfect weather for each of these goals is sort of different.
The next morning brought blustery conditions and a bit of rain — not terrible for waterfowl, which we quickly harvested, but not great for pheasant hunting.
A little wind can be awesome for chasing ringnecks. It can mask your sound and give your dogs a great advantage. That being said, 35 mph winds and rain make it almost impossible. We gave it the ol’ college try, though, and afterward headed home to clean our ducks and geese. We never did fish that day.
To prove my point about what to do in the fall in South Dakota, we never did reconvene that year to try again. Deer and antelope tags, college, girls and homecomings got in the way of our efforts for the rest of that year.
If at First You Don’t Succeed
The second year of chasing the slam brought confidence, great weather and some scrutiny. The resident-only pheasant season was the weekend we chose to chase the slam, and while that would hamper our chances at an easy limit of private land birds, we knew some out of the way places south of Sisseton where we were confident we could get the deal done.
One of my friends is a landowner and had chopped some corn for silage. He left three rows of standing corn in the middle of the chopped field, and early reports were of hundreds of feeding waterfowl. We spent that Friday evening fishing from the Waubay grade near Grenville, and we were confident that the fishing portion of our endeavor would, at least, be possible.
The weather was to be sunny, cool and breezy — the kind of fall weather we all dream about.
The scrutiny came from some of my family. My dad and uncle had heard us making plans and asked what we were up to. When we told them, they chided us with replies.
“Seems a bit unnecessary,” and “Kind of a little gluttonous, don’t you think?”
I hadn’t really thought about the “sporting” aspect of the slam until that point. Being a college-aged kid, I had more energy than I knew what to do with when it came to the outdoors. Living where I did, I had more resources, too. It only made sense that by combining those two things the results would be nothing but positive.
My friends and I discussed it at length that morning in the dark when we were setting up the magnum goose decoys. The general consensus was that legally, ethically or morally we were doing nothing wrong. Besides, it was too good of an idea and too much fun to not try and follow through.
As the day unfolded, everything was nearly perfect … at least that’s how my brain recalls all the memories that we made.
I remember an unreal retrieve on a crippled pheasant that was made by my friend’s 2-year-old yellow Lab. The dog had shown little promise as a pheasant dog before that, but now years later I can still see that dog coming back with a rooster in its mouth.
I remember laughing to tears as one of my buddies got pummeled by a honker that was playing possum as he reached down into the decoy spread to pick it up.
I remember running out of gas in my little red Chevy S-10 pickup, coasting into Eden and then trying to find someone with a gas key for the local co-op.
I remember some of the best fall fishing I have ever had.
I remember celebratory beers in Webster and telling stories — stories that we tell to this very day.
We never tried to do the slam again. It was a lot of work, but I’ve talked with a lot of people about the concept. It really does feature the amazing resources and opportunities we have in this part of the world.
In fact, there are very few places that exist where you could do it, and I think that is the most important take-away from our experience.
Our home — this boondocks, or sticks, or flyover country, or whatever you want to call it — is pretty amazing. Doesn’t matter exactly where you are from across this region, as amazing outdoor opportunities are literally right out your back door. Get out and take advantage or one … or five.
About the Author: Chris Hull, pictured here with a walleye, is a native of Sisseton, S.D., who has spent the last 25 years in Pierre splitting his career between the Department of Tourism and GFP. He sings in an OK cover band and does his best to help his wife, Melissa, raise their 12-year-old daughter who outfishes them both on a regular basis.