By Kent Danjanovich Senior Editor
Over the last 12 years, I have had the opportunity to visit many great destinations all over the world. These locations have offered just about everything imaginable including fishing, upland game, waterfowl, big game, and a little bit of everything in between! Now I know that most of you think of me as the fishing side of Sportsman’s News, but I will have to tell you that I will always have a special place in my heart for a special bird; one that I have cherished since my early childhood and that is the rooster pheasant.
Growing up in the south end of the Salt Lake Valley in Utah, although you wouldn’t know it now, this area was once a pretty good place to chase a bird or two. I remember many restless nights leading up to opening day of the pheasant hunt, with great expectations of spending time with my dad and brothers and our prized pointers in the field. There is just something special about watching a bird dog work a piece of cover, using their acquired and inherited instincts to outsmart and hopefully outmaneuver their prey, with the end result a perfect, awe-inspiring flush.
Now unfortunately, those days have come and gone. My dad and one of my brothers have passed and houses cover the landscape that was once home to perfect upland bird habitat in my old stomping grounds. But, my love of the sport has never diminished. My passion for the hunt and experience still burns and I am always searching for places to visit to reminisce on those fond memories of so long ago.
The stunning lodge sits atop a gentle hill and is the showcase of the area.
Well, nearly ten years ago I found a hunting lodge in the heart of South Dakota that has rekindled that fire in me for upland bird hunting. Not only are the birds plentiful, but the people that I have met because of this new-found association have become just about as close to me as my own family and I again look forward to visiting them every fall for my return trip-of-a-lifetime!
Don, Judy, Michael and Angie Bollweg are the owners and operators of the Tumbleweed Lodge in Harrold, South Dakota, situated about 35 miles northwest of Pierre, the State Capitol. As many in the upland bird business today, they started out in the farming business and as the bird populations increased, so did their ideas of capitalizing on the possibilities. Today, they are not only one of the most well respected farming operations in the state, but also rated as one of the world’s best hunting lodges by many top outdoor publications and organizations.
Plenty of hard work has gone into every aspect of their operation over the years. You don’t get to the top by not always being on the lookout for new and innovative improvements. Their beautiful lodge is the showcase as you drive onto the property. It is perched upon a gentle slope, surrounded by towering rows of trees and corn and grain fields, with the American Flag proudly flying near its corner. As you approach the lodge, colorful roosters can be seen scurrying in every direction and for the newcomer, it is hard to control yourself as the anticipation mounts.
This past December found myself and fellow Sportsman’s News Pro-Staffer, James Dansie, joining our friends Ralph Crystal, Dr. Jeff Smith and one of our latest Pro Membership Sweepstakes winners, Brandon Simpson and his wife Sammi for four nights and three days of hunting at Tumbleweed.
Our host, Michael Bollweg, met us at the door with his usual broad smile and we soon found our way to our rooms and unloaded our gear. It was then back to the car to grab our guns and hunting boots on our way to the locker room in preparation for our next morning’s hunt.
The interior of the lodge is also first class and offers guests a place to relax and enjoy their down time.
The aroma of Chef Joe Fossett’s appetizers filled the lodge as we then made our way into the lounge area. We each grabbed a plate and a drink of our choice at the bar and found a comfortable seat around the big screen for a little down time and ‘getting to know time’ before dinner. As I filled Brandon and Sammi in on what they were in for during the next four days, the sparkle in their eyes became brighter and brighter!
At about 6:30pm the dinner bell rang and we all made our way to the main dining area. Thick, juicy steaks and all the fixins’ were awaiting us, as Chef Joe delivered again as he would throughout our stay. His culinary efforts are extraordinary as he has become a mainstay at the lodge and we always look forward to his offerings. After a great meal and a little bit more mingling, it was then off to our rooms and a good nights’ sleep.
Although the anticipation had most of us up well before the breakfast bell at 8am, after another great meal to start the day, we all met in the lounge area for a quick safety video before picking up our licenses online in the office and then slipping into our gear in the locker area. Our guide, Brett, then greeted us and led us to our awaiting bus, complete with dog trailer in tow and we were off to our designated area for the morning hunt.
Good guides and good dogs make for a great day in the field.
Now if you have not hunted pheasants in South Dakota, especially after the birds have been chased for a few weeks into the season, you are in for a little bit of a different adventure. By far the most effective way to hunt the birds is to “push and block”, meaning a group of hunters are let out at the beginning of a section of cover, be it corn, sorghum, marsh or CRP and then posting blockers at the other end of the cover in hopes of cornering the birds. This system can be very successful, as the birds will feel the presence of the pushers and blockers and eventually have to flush, hopefully in range of one or the other.
Pro Membership Sweepstakes winner Brandon Simpson and his wife Sammi had the time of their lives during their stay at the top-rated Tumbleweed Lodge in Harrold, South Dakota.
Brandon, Sammi and Dr. Smith joined Brett and three of his prized pointing labs on the first push, as Ralph and I drove the bus to the end of the section of corn and James grabbed his Panasonic to record our adventure for an upcoming edition of our Sportsman’s News DVD line-up. It was now a waiting game for us, as the group slowly pushed the corn in our direction. But it didn’t take long for the first shots of the morning to ring out and the first of 20 birds for the morning dropped from the sky, the results of a great shot by Pro Membership Sweepstakes winner, Brandon Simpson. By the time the group worked their way to our end of the strip, six roosters had been retrieved and big smiles adorned the faces of every one of us. Each subsequent push resulted in varied, but successful results and we soon found ourselves back at the lodge, unloading for lunch.
At about 1:30pm, we all headed out to the trap and sporting clays range for a little friendly competition before our afternoon session in the field. Plenty of laughs and good times for all were had, but we all were pretty antsy to get back out to do some more of the ‘real thing’.
South Dakota pheasant limits are set at three birds per day, but because the Tumbleweed Lodge has preserve status, they are able to offer their guests a five bird limit, with the option of purchasing additional birds as well. So, by the time we finished our afternoon hunt, we had not only filled our 25-bird limit, but we had also added another dozen to that number as well. Not a bad start to another great adventure at an unbelievable destination!
That night, we hit the steam room and giant hot tub after dinner and then made our way to the game room in the “Wild” Bill Hickok cigar room for a rousing game of cards, while reminiscing of our days’ events and daydreaming of more of the same to come.
Ralph Crystal, Dr. Jeff Smith, Sammi and Brandon Simpson and Kent Danjanovich pose for another great photo after a successful day in the field with Tumbleweed Lodge.
Day’s two and three found us in different areas of the farm, but with much the same success. Each push resulted in birds exploding from cover in every direction. And even though I had the time of my life again, as I always do when I visit the Tumbleweed Lodge, my best memories of this particular trip will be the great experience that I had sharing it with Dr. Jeff Smith and Brandon and Sammi Simpson. All three of them were pretty much introduced to upland bird hunting on this adventure and I think that I can safely say that I think that they are all hooked for life!
And just a little side note. If you don’t think that I really love to hunt pheasants, especially when it comes to visiting my friends at the Tumbleweed Lodge; I was scheduled to go in for knee replacement surgery three days after the trip and even though I had to hobble around and mostly do the blocking during this hunt, I promise I will be back to full bore by this fall for the return trip with our next winners of our Pro Membership Sweepstakes.
So what are you waiting for? Whether you are a want-a-be pheasant hunter or a seasoned veteran, if you are looking for the very best experience at the very best lodge you can imagine, get on the phone right now and book your hunt with the Tumbleweed Lodge in the heart of South Dakota. I promise you that every part of your experience will be first class. And if you have not signed up for our Pro Membership Sweepstakes yet, you are missing out on a chance to win a trip for two every year as part of this great program as well. Just ask Brandon and Sammi Simpson of Wyoming! The Tumbleweed Lodge, 605-875-3440 and visit them on the web at www.tumbleweedlodge.com