Duck Blinds Boats and Hunting Dogs 

I wasn’t taller than Harlan, I was standing on the seat with my feet out of water. 

I like the story by Woodswoman Netty Bramble about the duck hunters floating duck blind. In the September-October issue of the U P magazine. That sounded like an educational, and exciting excursion, something that might have happened in my younger days. I’ve always loved the Upper Peninsula and wished I had lived there. Now in hindsight, if I had been there as a child I no doubt would have ended up out in Lake Superior. That would have been a real disaster! With my experience building rafts and assorted floating devices I no doubt would have ended up in Chicago. I guess that wouldn’t have happened either, I never would have designed anything that could have remained afloat for that distance. 

The opening of the duck season really got us kids’ juices flowing. I recall one night we wanted to make sure we were there early enough, when the bird started to fly, we slept by the water in my uncle’s old duck boat all night long. That was another boat with limited floatability time. But it was on a shallow Slough where the water was only about five feet deep at the deepest. 

My cousin used to tell a story about his dad. They were out hunting at first daylight. A moth came by right in front of them, thinking it was a duck he shot a moth, I believe that might have been the first time that ever happened 

My grandparents had an old wooden fishing boat in the 1940s they left that boat at the Lakeshore all winter long and just pulled it up so the ice wouldn’t bother it. Lake Poinsett is the largest natural lake in South Dakota 17.8 square miles. The depth of the lake varies it is close to 20 feet at the deepest places. If a strong wind comes up, you must have a good-sized boat or you going to have a very rough ride. South Dakota winters vary but we can usually depend on about nine months of winter and three months of tough sledding. That old wooden boat sat there drying out all winter long. I was just a kid at that time, but I was scared to death to go on the first fishing trips, it leaked so bad, that the bottom of the boat could have just as well been a screen door. In the 1940s that lake only had half a dozen people around it. Today it’s Wall to wall homes around the complete lake. I don’t think you would leave your boat out all winter now. 

One year before the lake froze there were hundreds of thousands of geese out in the middle. My cousin and I had a brainstorm we would camouflage an old rowboat and float out to where the geese were and shoot about 1/2 a boat full. Luckily that boat didn’t leak, we had barely gotten started on our Kamakasi Mission and the geese got up and flew away. Later it dawned on my feverish duck hunting brain. What if the geese had not left and the wind had come up and blown us across the lake? High waves could have tipped us over out in the middle into ice-cold water. I must think there are guardian angels on special detail looking after half-witted youngsters. 

We lived in Watertown SD for a while the Big Sioux River runs right through the middle of town. We did have a variety of floating devices there, and most of them used discarded rubber inner tubes with holes in. It was our good fortune to have Grandpa old T-Model tire pump. You might say we graduated from bailing out water with a can to pumping tubes with tire pump. 

Before we reached the age of hunting ducks and pheasants, we still built floating devices. I recall one of the first ones my brother and I put together. We used some big old railroad ties; I suppose we were thinking bigger is better. It got quickly assembled on the edge of a sand pit near the railroad tracks. We should have realized it was a sand pit so it must be deep water. We got it built then pushed it off the shore. There we were, submerging like a submarine. We were on our way down to visit Davy Jones Locker; we realized way too late that creosoted railroad ties are not very good flotation devices. We both abandoned ship and scrambled off, we then realized the sides of the sand pit were straight up and down. We both looked like a couple of frantic Beavers trying to find traction to get out of there, the sand just kept sliding under our feet. 

Pheasant hunting rings outdoorsman’s bells in different ways. We had relatives from the lower peninsula come out pheasant hunting for several years. They loved   

to come out here for the pheasant shooting on the Prairie, and pheasants were plentiful in those days before the raccoons and skunks got into the nest so bad. We were having breakfast where they camped at a nearby State Park. They had a big deer hunting tent they used up in the UP when they were at home in the fall, it looked like a government field kitchen. They had a fancy stove and everything for their deer hunting trips. The one guy I recall was a veterinarian, I don’t remember what town he was from, northwest of Detroit. The guys were talking before the magic shooting time of high noon, later in the season, it’s 10 AM. One fellow said Doc’s wife said, “he got so excited yesterday getting ready for this trip, I don’t think he got that excited on our wedding night.”   

Will Ketcham certainly reminds me of a warden we had, he even wore the original Smokey the bear Forest Service hat. My parents frequented the only resort on the lake for Sunday morning refreshments quite often. Our Warden Ed white would come over and make small talk with us boys. There were 3 Olson boys at that time. He would visit for a while and then quickly say, “did you catch any fish last night.” We learned very early to be wary of visiting with the Warden. Using gill nets kept many families alive during the depression days. If you had a good nylon net, with proper care it could last for decades.  

The law frowned on nets with big wrinkly foreheads. Mr. White suspected our family because we had a grampa on the north side of the lake and our family was on the South side. All the barn walls had rows of nails for hanging nets. Ed White was a famous well-liked man, the one that replaced him was a different story. He could not catch my uncle and his friend one night with a net. He saw they had a broken seal in the car, so he radioed the highway patrol they got stopped a short time later with a broken seal. That guy didn’t win many friends he did influence his enemies. 

 During the dry years, we had one lake that had thousands of muskrat houses on it. Warden White opened the trapping season by firing his shotgun. All the trappers were lined up along the highway on one side of the lake when he shot the shotgun in the air. it resembled the Boomer Sooner Land rush in Oklahoma. They had rules, you had to open the house set a trap, and close it back up before you could claim it with your flag. Trappers were an honest group and they respected each other. That was during the dry years. Pocket Gophers increased by a trillion-fold everyone’s land was full of pocket Gopher mounds. The counties all got together and put a bounty on pocket Gophers. You needed to bring in the front feet from your pocket gopher to claim your five-cent bounty. The muskrat trappers had been around the block a few times and they knew It would take a very good forensic scientist to know the difference. So, a lot of courthouses paid the five-cent pocket Gopher bounty for muskrat feet. 

The last floating device that I built with my own hands was when I was supposed to be a grown-up young fellow. We were renting a house in Sioux Falls South Dakota add the landlord liked me because I did a lot of work for him on the house. He had a Shop Smith in the basement, I decided I would use that and make myself a flat bottom duck boat. I had an 8-foot-long duck boat not quite four feet wide. I sealed all the seams with fiberglass. I spent most of one winter working on that boat. it was a really fun project. I thought about the doghouse I built first in the basement, I had to remodel part of the roof in order to get it out of the house. I did measure to make sure the boat would fit through the back door, but I found out I needed a lot more muscle than I had to get that boat outside. I used that boat for many years hunting ducks also I did a lot of muskrat trapping from that boat, it paid for itself many times over it would float in about 4 inches of water.  

After I started feeling some old age showing up I bought a Chesapeake Bay retriever. She was the best dog I ever had, she made me a nervous wreck when she was just a pup. A diving duck got her attention it would dive and swim further out. That duck had my dog completely hypnotized. It’s just like the duck knew exactly when to come up when the dog was ready to turn around. The duck led her into the middle of the lake, finally, I couldn’t see the dog anymore. I went back to my pickup thinking so much about my new dog. Pretty soon she came back, all that ice water never bothered her a bit. She had one bad habit I had trouble with her, the first duck she retrieved she would climb up on a muskrat house and have the duck herself. You have a lot of memories of a duck hunting dog. 

 My brother shot a green-winged teal one time it came down in some tall cattails. I told my dog to go in and fetch the duck she plowed through the cat tails and came out with a young Mallard. It was a young duck not quite big enough to fly yet. I sent her back in three different times and she brought out three little mallards. Finally, she came out with my brother’s teal, he scratched his head and said I can’t believe it. I’ve never seen anything like that before.