Outdoor Chenango: Exploring The Black Hills
Published: May 15th, 2024
By: Eric Davis

Outdoor Chenango: Exploring the Black Hills

Last week, you may have noticed that the Outdoor Chenango column was missing from Wednesday’s newspaper. Its absence was due to the author taking a chance and trying something new.

I had been thinking about joining a few friends on a trip to South Dakota to try to harvest a Merriam’s subspecies. They had gone last year in April when the season opened and were met with remnants of winter along with turkeys that hadn’t broken up from their winter flocks. So, they planned to go again this year but slightly later in the season to hopefully let spring be in full swing and the turkeys to be in the breeding season. Throughout January and into February, they kept an eye on the price of airplane tickets trying to wait for a good deal. Finally, they found a round trip flight from Syracuse to Rapid City for under $400. They called me to let me know they booked their tickets, reserved an Airbnb, and a rental vehicle. I just needed to get book my own flights and buy a South Dakota Turkey license. I dragged my feet a few weeks and when we were in Nashville for the NWTF Convention, my friend looked up the flight price and it wasn’t online as an option. So, I took this to mean I waited too long and wasn’t going to go. However, when we got home from Nashville, my friend called me on Monday to say the flight was listed again for a little over $400.

For the next couple of days, I went through my receipts from Nashville to see how much money I had left in my “play money” saving account. This account is funded by the money I get paid for writing this column and the sales of any hunting or fishing gear. When I added everything up that I spent at Convention and then paid off my credit cards, I had just enough to buy the plane tickets and turkey license (like only $10 left in the account afterwards). I figured, why not, and I bought both the tickets and the license.

Our first flight left Syracuse at 6:00 am on May 4 and we landed in Rapid City at 11:00 am Mountain Time after a brief layover in Chicago. A layover isn’t even the right word. We were supposed to have an hour between flights but our plane in Syracuse had to do some engine tests before we could take off, which took longer than expected. So, when we got to the gate to get off the plane, the airline app on my phone said, “Your flight is a gate that is 16 minutes away by foot” and it was already starting to board. We had to run across the airport to get to the gate as they were announcing “Last call for Rapid City.” The last guy from our hunting group was the last person allowed to board and they closed the door behind him. Once we landed in Rapid City, we headed to the baggage claim to grab our suitcases and our firearms before pickup up our rental vehicle.

There were six of us hunting and we split up into three pairs. I was paired with my friend Sean, who was one of my roommates in college. He had hunted in South Dakota about a decade ago as well as last year. I relied on his collection of points he has saved on his OnX Hunt app for advice on where to hunt. Sean and I hit a Wendy’s for lunch on the way out of Rapid City so we could eat it on our one-hour trip to Spearfish where the Airbnb was. However, we couldn’t check in until after 3:00, so we headed straight to a place where Sean had heard turkeys gobble last year. We parked off the main road at a parking area, changed into our camouflage, and got out hunting gear ready. When we were set, we walked up the main trail on a hefty slope, gaining over 400 feet in elevation in just over a mile. We called as we walked but got no response. We worked our way across the parcel at the top of the plateau and called into the different valleys in each direction.

Drenched in sweat after a couple hours of walking in the upper-70-degree heat, we decided to sit down in the shade of some pine trees and rest. Within minutes, I could hear snoring from my left. Just as I found myself relaxed enough to start drifting off, I heard a voice from straight ahead. I shot up and saw two guys on mountain bikes following the truck trail about 50 yards in front of us. After they rode by, we decided to head back to the car and try some other parcels. We swung left on our walk back to cover land we hadn’t on our walk up. We came to the end of a finger of pines with a small ravine and hit the box call. A bird gobbled immediately across the ravine in the next patch on pines only 150 yards away! We scrambled and sat down quickly and as we sat down, three deer came barreling out of the pines on our side, ran down the ravine and up into the pines where the bird had gobbled. We never got that bird to gobble again. So, we walked back to the car and headed up into some other spots Sean had.

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More details of my trip will be in next week’s article so hang tight!