By John Pollmann
It never fails. Just about the time you think you have things figured out, reality steps in to remind you that you really aren’t as smart as you think.
I started my radio show this past winter and have loved sharing stories of the South Dakota outdoors. My first interviews were anything but flawless. Fortunately, where I lacked efficient questioning, my guests excelled with quality information. After a few shows, I began to develop a sense of confidence, started taking a few chances and felt I had turned a corner in terms of the quality of the show.
Unfortunately, this confidence was accompanied by the crazy idea that each guest was on a journey with me, and carefully developed questions would lead my guests to a destination of my choice. I would make great stories.
This silly, egocentric notion was quickly unraveled by a magical shot from a hunting rifle.
My guest was a young hunter – Danny Wright – who had recently killed a new state-record mule deer buck in western South Dakota. The numbers of the hunt were quite impressive: a single shot from Wright’s .25-06 rifle dropped the buck at 560 yards, and the massive antlers would produce a green-score of over 200 points. What made things even more impressive was that he made the shot through a steady 15-mph breeze and from an angle of nearly 30-degrees above the animal.
Furthermore – and here is where I thought I could really make a story – the record-setter had used the latest in bullet drop compensating reticle technology, which allowed him to accurately place the bullet at such a tremendous distance.
My quest for journalistic greatness began as planned. Wright shared that he had hunted mule deer with friends on the same ranch in western South Dakota for years, but on this hunt, a snowstorm made reaching their usual spot impossible. So, Wright and a friend opted to hunt a block of public land in the area; neither had hunted it before, but it was close-by and accessible.
The pair split up to cover more ground. Wright chose to follow a ridgeline that provided him a clear view of the broad valley below. Trudging through the deep snow was difficult, and Wright was about ready to turn around when he spotted a sizable herd of deer. The animals were too far away to accurately judge any of the bucks, but there was one animal in particular that Wright knew was considerably larger than the others.
The young hunter continued to work his way through the snow, occasionally crawling his way to the edge to keep an eye on the large deer, but eventually ran out of ridgeline. From his final vantage point, Wright could see the large deer had moved away from the herd to bed on the hillside far below him, leaving only the portion of its body from the shoulders up open for a shot.
At this point in the interview, I had to pause for a break in the show. Off the air, Wright and I chatted a little about personal lives and began to share our backgrounds in the outdoors.
For some strange reason, when we resumed our interview I abandoned the list of questions that I had planned to use to create a great story about the balance between hunting ethics and technology, and instead, we continued our off-air conversation. The story that was revealed far surpassed anything that I could have hoped to “create” from my list of questions on a pad of yellow legal paper.
Like many of us, Wright grew up hunting with his father and spent many days by his side each fall. Under his father’s watchful eye, Wright developed a unique set of skills with a rifle; a proficiency that he would hone during his training for the armed service and his time in the Iraq War.
Unfortunately, after leaving the battlefields of Iraq, Wright returned to the Midwest only to watch his father succumb to a battle with cancer. His record-setting hunt was one of the first without his father by his side.
Wright’s story progressed to the ridgeline in western South Dakota. How he propped himself up on his hunting bag, took the readings from his binoculars and scope, consulted the typed notes on bullet-drop that he had developed through hours of practice and kept taped to his rifle’s stock, made the necessary adjustments, and squeezed the trigger. Through the wind-blown snow, Wright heard the delayed “thump” of the bullet striking the deer and saw the head slump over.
As Wright finished recalling that snowy afternoon, it became quite clear to me how close I had been to not hearing the real story. Bullet drop compensating reticle and ethics questions be damned – this was a story of a single bullet guided by knowledge, practice and perhaps by the helping hand a loving father watching from above.
Wright’s story provided an important lesson for me, and one that I hope will resonate with the members of the OWAA: a successful show needs a good story and a great listener. ◊
John Pollmann is the host of Dakota Outdoor Radio. John and his wife Amber live in Dell Rapids, S.D. with their yellow Labrador, Murphy. On the Web: www.prairieperspective.com.
By John Pollmann