By Jeff Fuller
Early October in Central Wisconsin brought something very unusual to its inhabitants last year: warm weather. To put it in perspective for those unfamiliar with the beauty that can be Wisconsin weather, I have Fairbanks, Alaska, and Mink, Russia, saved to my Accu-Weather app, not because I travel there, but because it’s sometimes comforting to know that someone has it worse off than we do. To say that temps pushing 80 were a bit unexpected would be a minor understatement. And while the rest of the State was rejoicing at the seemingly never-ending summer, I was a little panicked at a Wisconsin Waterfowl Opener that could potentially warrant sunscreen – especially given that 2017 would mark the inaugural client hunt at the Soggy Acres Signature Lodge.
Weather aside, we do our best to provide for a quality hunt for each and every hunter that comes through the Soggy Acres Signature Lodge each fall. And there aren’t a lot of them. This is by design, and not due to some millennial that hates hunting running our marketing program. By limiting the number of hunters, not only can my family provide each guest with the best experience inside the Lodge, but it also ensures the birds haven’t been overhunted. Going into Season 8 of filming for SportingDog Adventures, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven 16+ hours only to stay at a Lodge that’s run everyone and their brother’s former college roommate through their swamps - twice.
If you own a business or take pride in the one you work for, then you know that “quality” isn’t just a buzzword. You know that “quality” is actually a lot of behind-the-scenes hard work. The behind the scenes work at our Lodge is year-round and non-stop. While other families are enjoying spring baseball games, we’re greasing bearings on our fleet of Argos and American Landmaster UTV’s. While other families are at Disneyland for summer vacation, we’re planting brassica and duck potato plots. And while other families are enjoying Sunday night football, we’re driving back home late after making the last of the downy beds and stocking the pantry before the next group of hunters gets in. “Quality” doesn’t mean “perfect,” but we try our best to make sure we’re offering the best food, the comfiest beds, the nicest blinds and the coolest rides to get to them.
This past fall, we had the privilege of hosting a group of hunters from Environ-Metal, the makers of HEVI-Shot. Not only do I consider Michael Narus, their V.P. of Sales and Marketing, a friend, but Environ-Metal is also a sponsor of our TV show. No pressure, right? The group was greeted, fed, and versed in the rules of engagement before turning in early for (hopefully) a big hunt the next morning. Despite the temps, my family and I had limited out on opening weekend just days before, so we were encouraged that the HEVI-Shot hunt could be just as good.
Rising at 3:30 to get coffee and breakfast on, the buzz of the cicadas reminded me that the heat was still with us outside. It made for a muggy day in the blind. The eight hunters from HEVI-Shot were armed with sausage biscuits and the best ammo on the market, but the bird action stalled. If you’ve ever hunted in excessive heat, then you know the ducks just don’t have that feeding-frenzy mentality. Getting to and from the blinds was tough even in an Argo, in mud that never ended, but the dogs had it even worse. Soggy Acres Pickett’s Charge, my seasoned chocolate Lab, and Soggy
Acres Black Sheep Major (“Pappy”), my recently-titled younger yellow male, had their work cut out for them. By the time the duck action subsided, Pickett and Pappy were indistinguishable other than size. We had teal screaming in in small groups in the early hours and even shot at some Canadas, but by lunch we hadn’t limited out. No worse for the wear albeit a bit sweaty, we headed back to the Lodge for a hot lunch, a cool shower, and a re-grouping for the afternoon’s upland hunt.
Part of the beauty of the Soggy Acres Signature Lodge is the ability to do waterfowl onsite and upland nearby. Armed with our HEVI-Metal Upland loads, we headed out to the pheasant farm for some non-stop chicken action. Putting some fresh dogs into the field, the roosters were flying as we crunched through the corn. With a Soggy Dog in front of you and a HEVI-Shot load in your shotgun, it’s hard not to get your fill of birds on our upland hunts. What I can’t capture in words, I hope the camera captured, as we filmed the men for SportingDog Adventures. Watching the spots of blaze orange tramping through the fields and listening to the men’s banter over the sounds of the dog whistle reminded me that while I can’t control the weather, having our upland afternoons always makes for a great day in the field.
The HEVI-Shot group, like all of our groups, was treated to a high-end, relaxing dinner fireside upon our return from the field. With the smell of mesquite pouring from the Bradley Smokers, the group was dying to dig into some tender brisket. While the woodstoves crackled, I cleaned up the kitchen to the sounds of laughter from tired but happy hunters, until the conversation dwindled into sleepiness.
Our HEVI-Shot hunt wrapped up for the year two days later, and we said goodbye to Michael and his group until next fall. As with all hunts, we had our highs and lows, excellent experiences and learning experiences. All the hunters left with plenty of cleaned pheasants on ice, but fewer waterfowl birds than I would have liked. While our indoor equipment and facilities were on point – having only finished the construction earlier that year – we had an Argo tire blowout in the extreme mud in the field, causing a delay as we had to dispatch another Argo to collect the group. After manually extracting that Argo, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the smell of that warm swamp mud. All in all, the group had a great time and I believe we succeeded in delivering a quality hunt. They’re coming back this year, and we have even more in store.
So what will be new in 2018 at the Soggy Acres Signature Lodge? Loads of things. I firmly believe in re-investing in my business. It’s how you stay fresh. Competitive. And of course, how you maintain a level of quality. We’ve added a second bay to the existing garage/ mud room to exclusively house the “toys.” We’ve obtained a slew of new mini layout boats and decoy sleds from Four Rivers Boats. We now have a fleet of Argos, with a total of four; the Argos will pull the layout boats filled with equipment, thereby making the ride in the Argo roomier for our guests. Our blinds are all brand new, roomy, floating structures covered in Camo Systems netting. We even have new dogs, with freshly minted dogs right off the competition circuit joining our ranks. Maybe more important than all of the fancy new gear and the cozy accommodations, is the year of experience we now have under our belts. Whether it’s knowing how much to offer for snacks or anticipating how many extras orange vests to have on hand, we’re more prepared for whatever the hunters, the dogs, the property, or Mother Nature throws at us. And hopefully this year, she’ll kindly throw some cold temps our way.