Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The Country Lewis and Clark Traveled




         A week ago I spent several days in South Dakota with a man by the name of Joel Vosek, and I will write more about him and the 108-mile Ft. Reynolds Lake we fished in another column.  It was a magnificent day, on one of the most beautiful waters I have ever fished.  

         There were, along those high sand hills they call the Missouri Breaks, no marinas, no houses nor retirement villages, and no boats… just miles of rolling high hills overlooking the clear wide lake which was made from the Missouri River, covering now the trail of Lewis and Clark, and ancient villages of the Sioux and other Indian tribes.

Joel Vasek with the first two walleye I caught. The one on the left  only liked 7 inches from being 30 inches long

         Joel is a bundle of energy, pleasant and industrious, living the life he loves in the land where he was born.  He now owns a lodge and fishing and hunting service at Geddes, South Dakota a town of 100 residents in that sparsely settled country.  He is only 44, but I was told no man in that country knows more about fishing and hunting than Joel.


         When he was young, Vosek took the 140 acres his father homesteaded and began to add on to it.  His thousand-acre block of flat cropland found to the east away from the breaks is only part of the land where he takes several hundred pheasant hunters who come to his lodge in the fall and winter.  All over the upper Midwest there are pheasant hunting operations where pen-raised birds are the quarry. Vosek won’t have any part of that.

         “Why hunt pen raised birds? ” he said, “I want to hunt wild pheasants and that’s what my visitors want to hunt.” In doing that, you don’t have the expense of those pen-raised operations and you are hunting the birds that are descendants of the first ones released in the Dakotas. 


         Thinking of the drastic reduction in pheasant numbers I have seen in Iowa, where I hunted wild birds in the seventies and eighties, I told him it doesn’t seem reasonable to try to find enough wild birds for a lot of non-resident hunters.  His eyes lit up then, and he said that after we had my walleye filleted and frozen, we were going to take a ride.  What a ride it was.  Joel doesn’t fool around in that old pickup.  We headed for his pheasant country, most of it only a few miles southeast of his lodge.  Around his own 1000 acres there are a couple or three thousand acres of private land he can also hunt.  And why not, there isn’t a crop farmer in a half dozen counties that isn’t a friend of Joel Vosek.  Most knew his father, and they know Joel.

         He explained his theory of producing large numbers of wild pheasants and good hunting.  I am not going to get into all of his ideas now, but this guy could work as a game biologist up there.  He absolutely knows what he is doing.  In another column later in the fall, I will go into that in depth.  This man makes it work like no pen-raised operation or any state game department ever has. 

         I just want to tell you what we saw that day.  First of all, along those gravel roads and some tractor trails we came across we saw flock after flock of hen pheasants and broods, from nearly grown to the size of a quail.  Almost always there were 10 to 15 young birds.  It was something to see Joel’s excitement.  His love of that land where he grew up, and the love of the wild creatures, from deer to birds and waterfowl, was obvious.


But I have to finish with this, while in one hour we saw hundreds and hundreds of young pheasants, there were maybe ten thousand blue wing teal on a hundred drought-lowered small lakes and potholes and 5000 doves along those back roads.  This was on August 24.  You remember what I said in another column about hunting season in the Ozarks being too early?  Those thousands of doves and teal will not be down here by the season openers.


         Just because they were here by then 30 or 40 years ago does not mean they will be this year.  Why our game managers can’t figure out that seasons need to be set back a couple of weeks I don’t know.  Part of it is that dove hunters are amongst the dumbest hunters you will ever meet, and easy to satisfy out there sweating and swatting on Sept 1.  They know little of the biology of the dove.


         I say that because I have talked to dozens of them in the field.  Actually they should be labeled shooters rather than hunters.  If they could hunt doves with me in October, they would forsake that September opener.


         What I wouldn’t give, as an avid duck hunter, if the teal season opened in early October.  But, game-season-setters only hunt deer, mostly.  And they don’t learn much from getting out in the sticks, swamps and streams. 

         Well, I have hunted with experts and professionals, lodge owners and guides all over the U.S. and Canada, and many I never saw again because I didn’t want to. But I WILL be back to see Joel Vosek… a special person I really enjoyed getting to know.  If you want to see his Missouri River Lodge at Geddes S.D. just get on these info boxes where you can find that goggle thing. 


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