By Kent Danjanovich

Since pheasant hunting is one of our favorite things to do here at Sportsman’s News, it only made sense that when we started the Pro Membership Sweepstakes, one of the first hunts that we included in our drawing schedule was a trip for two to one of our longest-standing Platinum Approved Outfitters, South Dakota’s Tumbleweed Lodge.

Don and Michael Bollweg have built one of the best farming operations in the country over the past 35 years and because of that hard work, it was only natural when the idea came to incorporate the hunting part of things into the equation as well. Now both work hand in hand, literally “feeding” off of each other as they have continued to thrive as one of the most highly rated hunting lodges in the world as well.

Our favorite time of year to visit the lodge is in early December. Now you may think, “Why would you want to fight the wind and cold of South Dakota in December”? Well, although there are a lot of birds to hunt throughout the season (their preserve status lets them open up after September 1st and actually remain open clear through March 31st), when the snow starts to fly and the birds have been chased for a few weeks, they start to seek refuge in the shelter belts and standing crops of properties such as what Tumbleweed Lodge has to offer. This slow, but sure build-up of concentration of birds starts to hit its peak during this first part of December and it is not unusual to jump over 1,000 birds or more out of a shelter belt line or a standing corn or milo field. Yes, it is quite a sight!

This past December, our lucky winner, Gary Lutz from California and his buddy, Dan Humeston, joined me and my good friends Ralph Crystal, Dr. Jeff Smith and his brother Dave for four nights and three days of outstanding Tumbleweed Lodge hospitality.

Unfortunately, one of those nasty South Dakota December storms rolled in just about the same time we did. I picked up Gary and Dan at the airport in Pierre at about 8 pm in pretty much a blizzard and we proceeded to slowly make our way back to the lodge at a snail’s pace. But once there, we all enjoyed a great meal prepared by Chef Joe and then after a few introductions and a little tour around the lodge, we each headed to our rooms for a good night’s sleep.

The breakfast bell rang at 8 am and after we each downed I’m sure a little more than we should have, we headed to the lounge area for a safety video before securing our licenses and then getting into our hunting gear before loading into our bus to head out to our assigned area for our morning hunt.

As our guide, Brett, drove us to our first location, I couldn’t help but get a chuckle out of the looks on Gary’s and Dan’s faces as roosters could be seen running in every direction in front of and on both sides on the bus. I didn’t have to give them too much assurance that it was going to be a pretty good day of hunting!

Four hunters unloaded with Brett at the start of the first section of corn, as Brett then opened the doors to three of the boxes of his dog trailer behind the bus. Three of his prize labs popped out, raring to go. Ralph and I stayed in the bus and quickly proceeded to drive to the other end of the corn rows, a distance of about 300 yards or so. The idea would be that Brett and his dogs, along with the four hunters, would spread out across the width of the corn patch and push toward myself and Ralph as we “blocked” the other end, a common practice when hunting pheasants.

It didn’t take long for Ralph and I to hear the first shots ringing in the distance and we saw the first bird of the day drop to the ground, immediately tackled by one of Brett’s labs making a perfect retrieve. Six more birds would be downed on our first push, with everyone having a chance to get into the action. Push after push resulted in 20- of our 30-bird group limit (five birds per hunter, per day) by noon. We then headed back to the lodge for lunch and to warm up a little before heading back out for a little more hunting in the afternoon.

By 4 pm, we were done hunting for the day and enjoying the hot tub and sauna back at the lodge. By 6 pm, hors d’oeuvre were served and by 7 pm, juicy steaks and all the fixin’s were laid out before us. And oh, did I mention the fabulous desserts? Believe me, you had better plan on gaining a little weight on your visit to the Tumbleweed Lodge, because the food is so good, even if you want to, you just can’t turn it down!

As good as day one was, days two and three were really just, I guess, carbon copies. How can you improve on perfection! By the end of the third day, Gary and Dan were in the pro shop with Michael, talking about dates for a return trip for 2017 to live their experience all over again. You know the mark of a truly great operation when the guests can’t even wait until the end of their trip to book their next great adventure. Yes, Tumbleweed Lodge is definitely that kind of place!

We are proud to have Tumbleweed Lodge as one of our exclusive Platinum Approved Outfitters and Lodges. They will be part of our Pro Membership Sweepstakes each year, so if you aren’t a member yet, get signed up today and maybe you will be the one joining me next time on a hunt of a lifetime to one of the best upland bird hunting operations in the world. South Dakota’s Tumbleweed Lodge, visit them on the web at tumbleweedlodge.com or give them a call at 605-875-3440.