Pheasant and Quail Hunting Homecoming
March 3rd, 2013
HOMECOMING TO HARPOLE’S HEARTLAND LODGE – by Stuart Williams – International Author
Quincy, an elegant and stylish English pointer, came to a halt as suddenly as if he had run into a brick wall. His tail pointed straight up, and his whole body quivered as if 10,000 volts of electricity were flowing through it. He leaned hard into the point, his left forepaw raised off the ground. Emma, another English pointer, cautiously crept up behind him and honored and backed his point in precise imitation, her left forepaw likewise raised off the ground. Randy “The Dandy” Runnels, my companion-in-arms, moved up to the right, the muzzles of his gun elevated to eye level in preparation for action. Roger Keller, a master guide, spoke to the dogs: “Steady now, steady now, steady now.” A covey of quail blew up right in our faces and swiftly departed the scene. Moving the muzzles of my Famars Excalibur up from behind one of the birds, I swung through it, slapped the trigger, and saw a most gratifying explosion of feathers. Instantaneously I was on another bird and dumped it at the outer margin of gunning range. Randy the Dandy in the meantime dumped one bird before it could get four feet off the ground, and followed up on another bird before it could get fifteen yards away. Randy had just completed four days of intensive shotgunning instruction at the Front Sight Shooting Ranch and was fit to knock the eyes out of a gnat at 50 yards; I soon came to think that he should rather be called “Randy the Deadly.”
The dogs romped to fetch in the morning sunshine and we moved on.
We moved into a field of harvested sorghum, where thick frost glistened in the sunshine. WE had not gone 25 yards into the field when Emma started to get very nervous, and was soon signaling with an erect tail that she had found game. Quincy backed and pointed deferentially. Then both dogs broke point and started to run. Evidently a pheasant was running out ahead of them. A grand, gaudy rooster elevated up and out of the sorghum 40 yards away. It was a long shot for those light loads of #7 ½ that we were using, but we unloaded four shots on it anyway. The bird flew off as if unscathed, heading towards a nearby stand of forest. It climbed and climbed, and then, just as it topped out over the forest, it collapsed and came tumbling down through the treetops, stone dead. The dogs were on the bird instantaneously.
WE broke our guns, the ejectors snicked, the bright red empties leaped straight up and coruscated in the brilliant day, and the air was suffused with the acidic fragrance of gunsmoke, that most intoxicating of all perfumes. We snuffled it up.
What a pleasure to be alive on such a day!!
On the very next action, in a thick tangle of blackberry bushes along the edge of the forest, the dogs pointed again. Roger Keller beat the bushes with a long stick, and quail exploded up and out in all directions. One flew right towards my head. I let it go by, and making a little hop, whirled around 180 degrees and put the bird down most authoritatively as it tried to make good its escape behind. Another flew straight up towards the roof of the forest, where I intercepted it neatly, and it tumbled to land almost at my feet. Randy put down two birds that tried to make their getaway into the forest—to no avail.
And so the morning went. A long succession of elegant points in cover the likes of which one sees nowadays only in dreams and in the paintings of Lassell Ripley—-dense tangles of blackberry vines and honeysuckle and multiflora rose bushes and Russian olive and chokecherry bushes along old rusty fencerows, between stands of big oak and pecan and elm and hickory and maple and sycamore trees, where the homesteaders had let them grow on steep hillsides, and fields of harvested corn and sorghum. Along the way we saw the long-abandoned shacks of homesteaders, tumbled down and forgotten. All this wonderful cover was the perfect product of years of benign neglect.
Our gunfire echoed and rolled around the hills for a long morning. Birds got up and ripped away into thick tangles of grapevines or over the tops of tall trees or out across broad cornfields, followed by the peremptory bark of gunfire and its command to cease and desist from flight. We did not miss a single opportunity. It was one of the most satisfying mornings of our lives.
Frequently during the morning we saw vast, lacey constellations of blue and snow geese far overhead, travelling 50—60—70 miles an hour, migrating back to the northcountry, riding the winds, wings hardly working.
A big part of the pleasure of the morning was watching the superlative dogwork. I never hope to see better in this world or the next. Master guide Roger Keller had groomed his dogs to perform impeccably. Roger himself is a retired biochemist, and his pursuit of perfection in the performance of his dogs equals his pursuit of perfection in his career as a biochemist. Roger is a certified Preeminent Poochmaster. In fact, all the guides at Harpole’s Heartland Lodge are certified Preeminent Poochmasters.
The other major component of the pleasure of the morning was the camaraderie of the very charming, affable Randy Runnells. Randy is a very successful CPA, based out of Las Vegas, who does consulting work worldwide, and virtually lives on an airplane. He has two homes in Panama. Randy and I enjoyed some great bird shooting in Argentina subsequent to the visit to Harpole’s, but that is another story and must wait its turn.
Back at the lodge, Randy and I packed away a real belly-buster of a lunch: a very nice salad with sliced avocado, black olives and green olives, with balsamic vinegar; an excellent chicken scallopine; a fine strawberry shortcake; and copious iced tea to wash it all down. Chef Stephanie did herself proud.
Then we enjoyed a power siesta. Afterwards, I reflected on those disturbing words of Shakespeare: “Thou hast nor youth nor age, but as it were, an after-dinner sleep, dreaming on both. “ (“Dinner” in Shakespeare’s time was the equivalent of “lunch” today.” Then, to quote Shakespeare again, this time from KING HENRY V, it was “once more into the breech.”
The afternoon was pretty much a continuation of the morning: more brilliant dogwork, hard-flying pheasants and quail and red-legged partridges ripping up and out of dense cover, gunfire echoing and rolling around the hills, feathers ballooning out of birds as they were brought to bag in the pale sunshine of a late winter afternoon, the long shadows of tall trees, and the sharp scent of gunsmoke wafting across the fields
For happy hour back at the lodge we joined the other good ol’ boys by fireside and feasted on a spicy mix of melted cheese, ground red hot peppers, and chicken, and washed it down with a fine Luigi Bosca malbec from Argentina.
From the fireside we migrated to the dining tables for another grand gustatory celebration: Caesar salad with water chestnuts; excellent roast pork with apricot sauce; Brussels sprouts with bacon bits; brown bread rolls; plenty of that fine Luigi Bosca malbec; and for dessert, an outstanding three-berry cobbler a la mode. Miss Wanda, the manager of the lodge, and her kitchen staff did themselves proud.
During dinner I enjoyed great camaraderie with a delegation from the Atlas 400 Club. The Atlas 400 Club is a group of people who believe in the free market system, as the name implies. Most of the members are successful businessmen, gentlemen of entrepreneurial proclivities, and they get together regularly to exchange ideas and enjoy each other’s company. The club sets very high standards of admission. They have regular meetings in New York and go on adventures all around the world. They have made visits to Oktoberfest in Munich and the Porsche factory; to the top wineries in the Napa Valley; to East Africa for a photographic safari; and to Argentina for bird shooting, among other destinations. Some of the members have a strong interest in bird-shooting, so the club arranges regular bird-shooting excursions in different parts of the world.
The next morning we fortified ourselves with a power breakfast: a delectable soufflé with spinach and cheese; biscuits with country gravy; fruit salad; blueberry blintzes; and copious coffee with cream.
Then I sallied forth to shoot birds in “fresh woods and pastures new,” in the words of John Milton, with no less than the president of the club, Sean Goldsmith. Among his many achievements, Sean is well known as a gourmet. Specifically, he is renowned as a connoisseur of macaroni and cheese. During the day he frequently sang the praises of “mac and cheese,” which he had ordered the chef to prepare for dinner according to his own recipe. Several times I had to remind him that “man does not live by mac and cheese alone.”
On the very first action of the morning Quincy pointed and Emma backed and a hen pheasant launched up and out of thick cover about 20 yards in front of Sean. He unloaded both barrels at it, but alas, missed cleanly. I shot, the bird climbed straight up about five yards upon impact and then flew off about 50 yards and collapsed and fell! Then the dogs went to work on a long hedgerow of blackberry vines and honeysuckle, taking turns pointing and backing most stylishly, and rooted out quail every five yards or so. They all got up and away swiftly, but, alternating shots, we put down every one without a miss. Roger Keller, who has seen many shooters perform over the years, said that we did some of the best shooting that he had seen. Whether he was being entirely truthful or not I will not speculate.
In the evening we joined the other shooters at fireside for a most convivial happy hour. We feasted on spicy meatballs and a tasty cheese dip, while lying about all the great shots we had made without a single mention of the misses. One fellow claimed that he had made a triple with an over-under, and another claimed that he had figured out a way to load four shells in a side-by-side, and had, accordingly, made not one but TWO quadruples with it! Mind you, these were gentlemen of unimpeachable veracity.
Then we migrated to the dining tables for another one of Miss Wanda’s great gastronomical performances: an excellent salad with lettuce, sliced strawberries, blueberries, and tangerine sections, in a tangy sweet sauce; then the piece de resistance, namely, huge slabs of rare roast beef with plenty of creamy horseradish; the inevitable macaroni and cheese, specifically, Cotswold cheese; copious Luigi Bosca malbec; and a terrific cherry pie a la mode.
All these grand high deeds took place in and around Harpole’s Heartland Lodge. Harpole’s Heartland Lodge is certainly one of the foremost bird-shooting resorts in the country. It is situated in Pike County, in south-central Illinois, a very attractive land of heavily forested hills that alternate with cropland in the bottoms. It is a land of abundant populations of whitetail deer and turkeys, and many hunters come to Harpole’s every year to pursue both species.
Harpole’s Heartland Lodge is situated just about 1 ½ hours drive north of the St. Louis airport, which means that it is conveniently accessible from any part of the United States. It is a very pleasant drive along the Mississippi River through Mark Twain country. The lodge is also near the point from which the Lewis and Clark expedition started, and it is near the Winchester ammunition factory.
Harpole’s Heartland Lodge is a favorite retreat of St. Louis Cardinal baseball players. Many of the great names of Cardinal history have hunted there.
Harpole’s Heartland Lodge is most ably managed by the owner, Gary Harpole, and his mother, Miss Wanda, who grew up right there on the land where the lodge is situated. Gary has a background in accounting, and brings the discipline of accounting to the management of every aspect of the business. Although the main business is catering to bird shooters, the lodge also caters to many deer and turkey hunters, and to a lesser number of waterfowl hunters. Because of the excellent trophy quality of local deer, space at the lodge is at a premium during deer season and must be booked far in advance.
The fact that the lodge is family owned and operated is very evident. Guests are made to feel that they are===temporarily at least—members of an extended family. This is one of the features of the lodge that brings customers back year after year.
Harpole’s Heartland Lodge remains open all year. Outside of hunting season it caters to retreats and conferences and seminars and weddings and family reunions. That is one of the reasons that Harpole’s Heartland Lodge is so reasonably priced. Other bird=shooting lodges offering a similar degree of luxury with comparable quality food and amenities and shooting must charge much more because they are open only about three months out of the year and must make their money during that limited time, whereas Harpole’s is open all year and can amortize many of its costs over a full year. It can also retain its staff full time, which enables Gary to get better staff than if he could employ them only seasonally.
The lodge combines the best aspects of rusticity and luxury. It is an Orvis Certified Lodge, and was invited to join the Beretta Trident program, but Gary Harpole declined the honor. Gary built his first lodge in the early 90’s, but within a few years demand for space totally overwhelmed his ability to satisfy it, so he built a second, much larger and more luxurious lodge. The lodge has a large number of suites with king-size beds, all furnished with very appealing rustic motifs; a large dining room with many of Gary’s mounted heads on the walls; a fully equipped kitchen; and a large conference room.
The basic hunt at Harpole’s permits eight quail and four pheasants per day. For shooters who want more the lodge offers its Premium Hunt, which offers essentially twice as many birds. For shooters who really want to experience “a whole lotta shootin goin’ on,” to paraphrase the famous Jerry Lee Lewis song, there is the Double Premium hunt, which permits essentially unlimited shooting. It’s a lot more reasonably priced than you might expect.
Special mention should be made of the quality of the birds that one encounters at Harpole’s. Moreover, many of the shooters who come to Harpole’s are mediocre shots at best, and miss many birds. So practice up and be ready to enjoy a lot of shooting.
Give Harpole’s Heartland Lodge a try. There is a whole lot to like about the place.
Stuart has made over 250 international big game and bird-hunting expeditions in more than 40 countries. .