Last week I went on an upland bird hunt in South Dakota. I don’t hunt, but I’d never spent any time on a real prairie, so I jumped at the chance to tag along with friends on their annual trip to the Fort Pierre National Grassland. Much of Dances With Wolves was filmed near the place we camped, so scenes from the movie accurately depict the landscape.
My four friends and their three dogs made three long sweeps each day over a three-day period. I walked along with them twice. Otherwise I stayed near camp and fished. It was unique fishing. Authorities (I assume the US Forest Service) dammed seasonal creeks to create large ponds for wildlife and migrating waterfowl. They also stocked these ponds with bass, bluegills, perch, and crappies to create a fishery where naturally no permanent water even existed. In late September, everyone other than me was on the shortgrass prairie to hunt sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chickens. I had the ponds to myself.
On our last full day of hunting and fishing, I was fishing Richland Dam Pond adjacent our campsite when 30 mile-an-hour winds hit. The only patch of calm water was immediately downwind of a small peninsula of cattails. I slipped my kayak behind the windbreak and kept casting for bass and crappies. The peninsula was directly across the lake from camp, so I had a good view when one of our tents went airborne. My friends were out hunting, so now I had to cross the windy pond and rescue our belongings. There were whitecaps on the water, and I hadn’t brought a spray skirt with me. I was able to ferry across the lake without taking in too much water, but ended up about 200 yards downwind from where I needed to be. I eventually made it to camp and retrieved tents, dishes, and backpacking chairs from what seemed a quarter mile of open land. Of course, the hunters returned just as I was finishing up. Together we broke camp and reestablished it leeward of a stand of small windblown trees. To maintain at least a semblance of social distancing, we each slept in our own tents, so relocating our living quarters took a little longer than it normally would.
In spite of the winds, the trip was very good. COVID ruined my summer plans to visit my daughter in New Zealand immediately after her semester abroad (she was called back to the United States in March), so South Dakota was my first outdoor adventure in almost a year.