West or north? Rivers or lakes?

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 12, 2011 - 1:21 AM

If there’s one addiction I can’t shake — one yearly trip that I absolutely relish — it’s the annual pheasant hunting excursions to South Dakota.


It doesn't get much better than this: Hunting pheasants in a golden field of grass near dusk on a warm October day in South Dakota -- the nation's No. 1 pheasant state. Here Tim McMullen of Delano whistles his dog.

Photo: Doug Smith, Star Tribune

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The sun was blazing orange, low in the sky. Just ahead in the thick prairie grass, my Lab was hot on the scent of a pheasant. Both of our hearts pounded in anticipation. Then the rooster exploded into the air, its iridescent feathers lit spectacularly by the setting sun -- an October moment now frozen in my mind.

When it comes to the outdoors, there's not much that doesn't thrill me. Fishing, hunting, hiking, paddling, camping, cross-country skiing.

But if there's one addiction I can't shake -- one yearly trip that I absolutely relish -- it's the annual pheasant hunting excursions to South Dakota.

For 30 years I've headed west with friends and our canine companions to hike fields of prairie grass. Why? I hunt Minnesota, and love it. But our trips to South Dakota have become tradition. The allures are many: Small-town cafes, Big Sky landscape, friendly townsfolk, lunches on tailgates, motel rooms jammed with tired hunters and exhausted dogs -- and those roosters rising in the crisp autumn air. It just doesn't get any better.


When I took my first job in Ely in 1976, it changed my life forever. I fell in love with the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and adjoining Quetico Provincial Park. I've paddled it with family and friends every year for 35 years -- and each trip is special. The fishing ranges from mediocre to spectacular, but the solitude and scenery are constants. It's a place to escape the fast-paced world and absorb nature and her pine-scented campsites, lonely loon calls and waves lapping idyllically on a rocky shoreline.

Northwest Angle

It's easy to get lost boating among myriad islands in the Northwest Angle of Lake of the Woods. The archipelago stretches from the Angle far north into Ontario. But getting lost there can be fun, especially in waters teeming with walleyes. The scenery is stunning. And so is the walleye fishing. Part of the appeal is the remoteness; you won't be fishing cheek by jowl with other anglers. Yes, it's a poke to get there, but that's half the fun. Bring a GPS and a map -- and extra bait.

Apostle Islands

A stiff south wind filled the sails of our chartered sailboat, heeling the craft at a sharp angle as it knifed through the waves, much to the delight of my two daughters, who were splashed by cold Lake Superior water. There's much to do at Wisconsin's Apostle Islands -- kayak the rugged shoreline, hike, bike -- or even charter a sailboat, as we did last summer. Then there are the restaurants and shops in the quaint town of Bayfield. We took the ferry to Madeline Island, camped, hiked and kayaked there, and had a beer at Tom's Burned Down Cafe -- possibly the most unique tavern north of Key West.

Far-north rivers

The frothy white rapids boiled ominously in a final rush to Hudson Bay. After running more than 40 rapids on a 13-day trip to the subarctic Seal River, we chose to line our canoes -- and live another day. One you've experienced tundra, sand eskers, musk ox, caribou and the whitewater of remote, far-north wilderness rivers, the urge to return is strong. I've paddled the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and far-north Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario -- and each has its own allure. All are unforgettable.

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