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The Blogmore Hunt
Nov 14, 2012
For the last several years, sometime in November on a farm southwest of Holabird, a not-so-secret conclave gathers. Ostensibly their mission is to chase and bag the wily South Dakota ringneck. The Mount Blogmore hunt accomplishes that mission well each year and, even with loaded weapons in hand, it proves that the divide between red and blue in South Dakota is not too wide.
The Origins of the Hunt – a Wosterism
Somewhere along the interstate of life near Reliance, one of the infamous Woster brothers, this time Kevin, came up with the outrageous idea that political bloggers across the political spectrum could join together civilly, be properly armed, and share the bonds of friendship that are a natural by-product of a South Dakota pheasant hunt. Kevin is the founder of the political blog Mount Blogmore and the outdoor blog Take it Outside, hosted by the Rapid City Journal. Kevin is one of South Dakota’s founding brothers, the Wosters: Jim, Terry, Kevin and probably a few other siblings that haven’t been quite as newsworthy. Kevin’s politics lean a little left of center, he claims. But when you’re talking about somebody from Lyman County, left of center may just mean that they were a few days late with their annual John Birch Society dues.
The Place – as Blue as you can get in Hyde County
Kevin’s wife hails from Highmore, and through that relationship, Kevin is friends with Holabird rancher Nick Nemec. Nick’s not much into hunting, but he and his wife Mary Jo are lots into company and political talk around the dining room table. Nick’s got plenty of pheasants, which he is about as interested in chasing as he would be the beautiful blue jays that populate the shelterbelts by his home. But if company wants to visit and chase around his fields, then for a day, Nick’s a pheasant hunter. Between shelter belts, a few cattail sloughs, and sunflower fields, the Nemecs have the kind of traditional pheasant habitat that you only find with a real farmer who practices real conservation. It’s easy to find the Nemec farm in the fall in even years — just look for the only Democrat signs along Hwy 14 between Holabird and Harold, and turn south!
The Crew — Eclectic, Political and all South Dakotan
|Birds, dogs and hunters of all political stripes at the 2009 Blogmore Hunt.|
Kevin handles the invites. Just about anybody that’s posted on a blog and cared about South Dakota politics appears to be eligible, although the size of the crew of actual attendees ranges from 5 to 15. Tony Dean was at the first hunt. John Thune and Tom Daschle have been invited. This summer George McGovern was anointed the 2012 hunt captain — unfortunately that couldn’t come to fruition. Jon Lauck, Pat Powers, Bill Fleming, one of the Nielson brothers (of polling fame), and Doug Wiken are a few examples of politicos who have graced the hunt. Each of these would be colorful in his own right, but a few others stick out.
My son, Jake, has been along and asked me if the guy that said he was a Methodist-Buddhist (Todd Epp) really was such a thing. (And if so, what is that?) Jake also wanted to know if that Cory guy (Heidelberger) was serious when he said he didn’t carry a gun and shoot pheasants because he was a pacifist. (I assured him he was.) But my all-time favorite may have been the first year, when staunch defender of the right, Sibby (Steve Sibson), attended the hunt and missed five consecutive roosters my dogs put up in front of him. When I poked him later about the Second Amendment also including the requirement that you know how to bear a firearm well enough to hit a barn from the inside, he seemed to laugh along — but he never returned to another Blogmore hunt.
The Hunt — Who Could Captain this Ship?
Every good hunt I have ever been on has, at least unofficially, a person in charge to provide some order for these armed primates. Blogmore is an exception. The unofficial hunt photographer, Jeremiah M. Murphy of Rapid City (he’s not a pacifist — he’s just excellent at self-assessment and knows which weapon he shoots most capably) captured the organized disorganization in one of his candid shots accompanying this article.
In past hunts, I’ve gotten the credit for laying out a successful plan for hunting large sunflower fields with small groups (section it off and hunt it cross rows). Plus, since most of the dogs are mine — and all of the ones that behave are — I get to have my share of input. This year our gracious landowner did lay out a plan of attack that on its face looked crazy, but in spite of our inartful execution, worked brilliantly.
The temperature ranged from 9 to 17 degrees, and the wind was at least a steady twenty miles per hour from the west, with even stronger gust. With dogs, you always hunt into the wind so they have their best shot at trailing the birds’ scent. But Nick convinced us that when the birds flushed at Mach 1, the cover we wanted them to land in was his and it was to the east, so we needed to push them with the wind out of a cattail-filled dam and draw. Skeptically, we started into the cattails. To the east we had only three blockers, who were spread out over several hundred yards of pasture and draw. The walkers included me and my three labs on the north side, and Kevin, Nick and one very rangy spaniel thing named Rosie on the south side. What Rosie lacked in discipline she made up for in raw energy. Within less than two minutes Rosie had put dozens of pheasants into that jet stream headed east. Kevin and I each dropped one, and the blockers enjoyed many opportunities to fire their weapons — unburdened by the task of recovering downed birds.
And never bet against the landowner — the birds all came down in the shelterbelts to the east, still pleasantly huntable on the Nemec land.
The Meal – Stories Shared, Friendships Made and Renewed
|Kevin Woster and Bill Walsh in the Nemec dining room.|
After the hunt, the group gathers at the Nemec dining room table for a feast of chili and whatever else Mary Jo has chosen to warm the hearts and stoke the bodies for the discussions to come. In years past the debates and discussions have included such diverse topics as everybody telling their favorite Frank Kloucek story (that should be a book), to assessing the fall of Tom Daschle and the rise of John Thune on the political landscape. This year, for the first time, former congressional candidate Bill Walsh joined the hunt. It took some prodding, but he shared recollections from the 1978 Democratic US House primary.
With Woster moderating the discussion, as long as the chili holds out, the South Dakota stories flow at the Blogmore Hunt. Real friendships are made by the most unlikely of people. Personally, there’s a strange character from Rapid City named Bill Fleming that has become a close pen pal (or whatever we call keyboard friends now) ever since meeting at the early hunts.
The Secret to World Peace
As hunts go, when the wind chills are below zero, 5 hunters yielding 10 birds — and missing another hundred — is a good day. It may be a few days before the frostbite goes away, but the friendships, camaraderie and experience hand around for a lifetime.
The real magic of the Blogmore Hunt is the Red and Blue sharing that takes place at the Nemec dining room table. History is filled with examples of the healing power of this phenomenon. Senator Karl Mundt and his colleagues used a weekly poker game. President Reagan and Speaker O’Neill shared a bump on the back porch at that white house. So here’s my thought. Senators Johnson and Thune and Representative Noem should get the Nemecs to lend them the dining room table for a week, ship it to DC, have Mary Jo make a roaster of her chili and get Harry and Nancy and Mitch and John all together for a little bonding and bridge building, Blogmore style. It can’t hurt, and if they play nice, Kevin might invite them to the real Blogmore Hunt next year.
Lee Schoenbeck grew up in Webster, practices law in Watertown, and is a freelance writer for the South Dakota Magazine website.