December in South Dakota always has the chance of being a little dicey or maybe I should say just plain icy! This past year was no different. We landed in Rapid City, South Dakota at about 4pm MT and my cameraman, Andrew Saullo, good friend Ralph Crystal and myself all loaded into our awaiting SUV for the normal three-and-a half-hour drive to the Tumbleweed Lodge, about 30 miles north of Pierre, the state capital. The wind was howling and the two or three inches of snow that had fallen during the early hours of the morning of December 4th were evident everywhere. It was going to be another one of those drives.
Only twenty miles out of town, we came upon the remnants of a double semi-trailer slide-off that had closed the freeway for over five hours that morning. With the wind chill temperatures still only in the high teens, it definitely wasn’t going to get any warmer on this evening. Soon our clocks would be changing over to central time and darkness would be setting in. But in the back of our minds, all we could think of was the great experience ahead of us when we reached our final destination, the incomparable Tumbleweed Lodge in Harrold, South Dakota.
I put in a call to Michael Bollweg at the lodge to let him know of our status and to tell him to not hold dinner for us. Another group of hunters were also at the lodge for the next four days, as well as Vickie and Leland Detloff, the lucky winners of the trip for two in our Pro Membership Sweepstakes. Ralph winced when I told him we were missing out on thick, juicy rib-eye steaks and all the fixin’s, but the food is always so good, I knew he would forget about it by the next morning at breakfast.
We finally pulled into the parking lot at the lodge at about 9pm and quickly unloaded our gear before mingling with our fellow guests before retiring to our rooms for a good night’s sleep. To be honest, I always have a little bit of a tough time sleeping the first night at the lodge, because the visions of past trips just keep pouring into my thoughts and the excitement just keeps building and building and I seem to keep looking over at my clock to see if it’s time to rise for our first day in the field.
When the breakfast bell rang at 8am, we all converged in the dining area and my first order of business was to introduce myself to our Pro Membership winners. Vickie and Leland were all smiles as we made our introductions and then filled our plates with scrumptious offerings of special Tumbleweed cinnamon French toast, eggs cooked to order, sausage, bacon, spuds – well I think you get the picture. Believe me, it’s a good thing you get an opportunity to do a little walking during the day, because you will never go hungry when you visit the Bollweg Family at Tumbleweed Lodge!
Because of our late arrival the night before and since Ralph and I had been guests at the lodge many times, Michael had rounded up the rest of the guests for their safety video the night before. So, all that was left was for Ralph to get his license online and we were then off to the gun room to gear up for our first morning of the hunt. We quickly donned our orange hats and vests and an extra layer of warmth for the crisp South Dakota air and headed to our awaiting bus.
Our first stop would be at the trap house for a few clay pigeons. Vickie and Leland were a little more accustomed to rifles than shotguns and wanted to warm up a little before taking a crack at a hard flying South Dakota ringneck. After a few shots, they were both starting to powder their targets pretty well, so we loaded back into the bus and headed to our designated area for the day.
If you haven’t hunted in the big pheasant states of the plains and Midwest, the most popular technique in many cases is to “push and block”, meaning the guides and dogs, along with hunters form a line across a section of cover and make a push toward the blockers at the other end of the cover. In the case of the areas you are hunting in most cases at Tumbleweed, those pushes are through corn, milo, shelter belts and around marsh areas. This technique is essential in order to keep the “educated” birds that have made it through the first two or three months of the season from running out in front of you and flushing out of range. Now plenty of birds still get away on each push, but in most cases, the opportunity presents itself for hunters to get shot after shot at roosters flushing in just about every direction (This is where the safety video comes into play that all hunters are required to view before hitting the field).
Our group would be a little on the small side with only four of us, but our guides, Matt and Rick, picked out areas and pushes for us that would fit our needs. We would rotate blockers and pushers, making sure everyone got into plenty of action and on our first push, Ralph, Vickie and Leland joined Matt and a couple of his prize pointing labs as Rick and I headed to the other end of the corn section to do a little blocking.
It didn’t take long for us to hear the first shots of the morning ring out in the cool, crisp air as birds could be seen flushing in the distance as they made their way towards us. As the group crested a small high spot in the push, another flurry of birds exploded from the corn and I watched three beautiful roosters fall from the sky. By the time I downed a couple from my blocking position as well, our first short jaunt produced seven roosters. Because of their preserve status, Tumbleweed is allowed to offer their guests a limit of five birds daily, with the option of purchasing more birds if desired, so we were well on our way to securing our daily limit on just our first push!
By noon, 17 roosters were laying on top of the dog trailer behind the bus and big smiles could be seen all around. Soon we found ourselves unloading back at the lodge and taking a break for lunch and warming up a little before heading back out for a few more birds after 2pm. Hot soup, sandwiches and a variety of salads and desserts adorned the lunch line, just another meal fit for a king that awaits you during your stay at the Tumbleweed Lodge.
By 5 pm, another 10 birds were added to the total of our 60-bird limit for our three-day hunt. Hors d’ oeuvres were presented by 6 pm and Prime-rib was the main course at seven. We all then hit the hot tub after dinner before relaxing in front of the big screen before heading to our rooms for the night.
Days two and three where almost carbon copies of day one, as Vickie and Leland just kept swinging and firing at birds, resulting in Matt and Rick’s retrievers getting a pretty good workout. By the end of our stay, after I had purchased an extra fifteen birds for the group on the last afternoon, 75 birds had made their way to the cleaning table and would be prepared and waiting for us as we departed on the morning of December 8th. Michael, Donnie and Judie Bollweg and their staff had hosted us for another perfect four-day and four-night South Dakota dream adventure at their spectacular Tumbleweed Lodge in the heart of Pheasant Country USA. And you all know me well enough to know that it won’t be our last!
Yes, we will be giving away another great trip during the 2018 season to again join me and our lucky Pro Membership winners for another great upland bird hunt at the top-rated Tumbleweed Lodge, December 3-7, 2018. So, if you aren’t a member yet, you have got to know by now that you are really missing out on literally opportunities of a lifetime for hunting and fishing trips from around the world. And if you are interested in joining us on this hunt even if you aren’t lucky enough to win, I have secured a few more spots, so give me a call to talk about the possibilities. South Dakota’s Tumbleweed Lodge, visit them on the web at www.tumbleweedlodge.com or give them a call at 605-875-3440.