The Last Windrow: A memorable trip through South Dakota, even without a shotgun for hunting birds

Columnist John Wetrosky takes a trip down Memory Lane through the Coyote State where he used to hunt

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I headed back to South Dakota last week during pheasant season and I didn't tote my shotgun. A strange occurrence.

Every once in awhile I believe it's good to reconnect with one's history - to relive the highlights of days gone by and relish the thought that one was able to enjoy those years before your joints started to complain and the future was still on the horizon.

That's what my wife and I did last week and we did it in the state where coyotes roam free and jack rabbits still inhabit the countryside - South Dakota.

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Now I must admit that we did not have time to visit the "west river" country - those vast plains where buffalo still roam in places. I learned from my time at South Dakota State that the natives judge your character by finding out if you grew up in "west river" or "east river."

Having grown up in western Iowa, I never felt that kind of divide. If you were from Iowa, you were from Iowa. Case closed.


Not in South Dakota. Those who live in the Coyote State know that.

One of our stops included the Terry Redlin studio in Watertown. For some reason we'd cruised by this place on the interstate a number of times, but never stopped. The impressive building sits on the outskirts of Watertown and houses some of Mr. Redlin's original outdoor paintings.

Viewing those pieces of art instantly reminded me of my days in a duck boat, hunkering down as a flock of bluebill ducks rocketed over my head. I could almost hear the whistle of their wings.

We headed down the road to Castlewood, the town where I'm honored to be included in the weekly paper. I've written this column for LeeAnne for many years and I knew her when she resided in my community of Pine River.

I'm a staunch advocate for small community newspapers and I know it's tough to keep them going at times. Those who take them for granted need to know that once they're gone, they never come back. Appreciate them.

Brookings was the next stop where I spent time pursuing a wildlife management degree. I drove slowly by the armory where I was a two-year cadet. I remembered the master sergeant who was the drill instructor who told me he wished the Army would send him back to Vietnam.

He had convulsions trying to get a bunch of college kids to march in unison and he carried a bunch of Band-Aids when rifle training took place and students stuck their thumbs in the breech of an M-1 carbine.

I smiled as we motored past the front door.


Then onto Pierre where we spent some time visiting with my wife's cousins. It was on their farm that I, my wife and our daughter each garnered our first Canada goose. The farm is only a mile or so from the Missouri River and it is a duck and goose pass extraordinaire!

We also harvested a number of ring-necked pheasants that ran amok through the cornfields.

Remember now, I was shotgun-less on this trip. The birds had nothing to fear.

South we went and stopped at a campground that was established by my mother's uncles and cousins - the Buryanek State Recreation Area near Burke. Although I never hunted there, my mother's brothers did and enjoyed many great waterfowl shoots alongside the river.

Now campers reside where the goose pits once were dug. The land was donated by the Buryanek family. My mother's homeplace farm, near Westfield, Iowa, was recently acquired by the Pheasants Forever organization and now that quarter section of land will be growing pheasants instead of corn and soybeans.

The Buryanek family loves and loved the outdoors and their commitment shows.

Our trip ended up in North Sioux City where my sister and brother-in-law reside. Sioux City features a museum dedicated to the journey of Lewis and Clark and is famous for being the place where the only man to die on their transcontinental trip - Sgt. Lewis - is buried. My sister-in-law's dad put the cap on the Sgt. Floyd Memorial Monument.

So history did percolate through our family in one way or another.


Our journey was a fun and memorable trip through country that I'd seen many time in years past. And I didn't take my shotgun along.

Times have changed.

The journey was great.

See you next time. Okay?

John Wetrosky
John Wetrosky (2022)

Opinion by John Wetrosky
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