While scouting for a duck hunting place one afternoon near Eureka, S.D., I came upon another hunter about to leave a public hunting area. As hunters are prone to do, we rolled down our respective truck windows to compare notes. The first thing David Micklos asked me was, "Have you ever seen a tundra swan up close?"
Micklos quickly, and proudly, volunteered that he had one in the back of the truck. I don't think the man could have been more proud if he had been showing off a 180-inch whitetail buck.
With a pronounced Midwest accent Micklos said, "I'd seen about 50 swans in there. After I waded through the cattails, I could see there were a lot more than 50 on the other side of the pond, so I just settled down in the cattails and waited."
He said a half-hour of standing in the cold water passed before a pair of swans got up and gave him a 40-yard pass shot.
"I decided that was going to be my best opportunity," he said. "You have to be very careful that you don't accidentally kill two. They fly side-by-side a lot. I was lucky to get a shot at one off by itself."
Shooting steel F-shot—about the same size as No. 4 buckshot—Micklos made a clean kill on the huge bird, probably tipping the scales at nearly 23 pounds. He said he has taken about 10 swans in his lifetime.
South Dakota issues 1,100 swans tags in a lottery-style drawing.
"The swans come down here from the tundra, and they spend two or three weeks here, typically," Micklos said. "When the weather gets bad, they'll pick up and head for Virginia or the Chesapeake Bay area nonstop.
"It's not easy for them to issue a lot of hunting permits over there because you have a lot of tree-huggers," he added with a smile. "This is one area where they can reduce the flock a little bit, so they don't overpopulate like the snow geese have. There is no shortage of swans."
Micklos told me he would have preferred shooting "a gray one."
Asked what that meant he explained, "They don't turn white until after a year or two. The gray ones are juvenile birds, and those are usually much more tender. I'm afraid this one is a grinder."
Again, I needed an explanation.
"I'll have to check to see if this one is tender enough to roast," he said. "But if not, I will have to strip the meat off of it and grind it up to make jerky."
Micklos said swan meat is sort of "halfway between a chicken and a duck, not too dark and not too light. But it's very good."
My hunting partner, Ed, and I saw swans everywhere we went. Sometimes, they seemed more prevalent than ducks. We even had one pair provide a perfect shot, had we been permitted.
But it was a treat to cross paths with Micklos—yet another reason it's good for every hunter to "get out of the box" occasionally to experience new sights; sounds; and, especially, people.
Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports.
Updated @ 2:26 p.m. on 11/5/13 to correct a typographical error.