OUTFITTER REVIEW ON:
High Prairie Lodge And
Outfitters Turkey Camp
Part 1:THE HUNT
A True Merriams Turkey Hunt In The Heart Of The Black Hills
by Paul Robey
Driving across the great state on South Dakota on an early spring morning was a real treat this particular Monday. I was heading on what would soon be a most adventurous spring turkey hunting adventure with my best friend and wife Sharon Robey. We were in hot pursuit of the wiley Merriams gobbler in the heart of the Black Hills with one of the most extreme and die hard turkey hunting outfitters I have ever met – Dave Ciani of High Prairie Lodge And Outfitters.
My better half, Sharon had won the two person turkey hunt at a live auction at “The Shoot For Hope” fundraising event for the Tree House Organization in Minneapolis, Minnesota the summer before. Outfitter Dave Ciani had graciously donated the 2 person spring turkey hunt to help support the outreach to the hundreds of troubled teens in the Twin Cities area who rely on the Tree House Organization for guidance in their life situations. (For more info on the Tree House Organization please visit: www.treehouseyouth.org). My good friend and owner of HuntTheNorth.com Dan Wennerlind was able to line up the hunt donation with Dave Ciani and assured me that this would be a hunt to remember. Knowing Dave Ciani had previously been named the 2006 HuntTheNorth.com Outfitter Of The Year for his “World Class” caliber turkey hunting, I felt honored to be able to help support the Tree House Organization, while also being able to spend a couple days in the hills with my wife and new friend- outfitter Dave Ciani.
We pulled into the driveway of The High Prairie Lodge located in scenic Whitewood, SD around 4:45 pm on a beautiful Monday afternoon in mid April. We were immediately greeted by Dave and his lovely wife Teri who runs the lodge, with big and happy smiles! Now due to the unpredictable spring weather in the Black Hills and being that today was a gorgeous day with rain in the forecast, Dave asked us if we were up for a quick afternoon hunt to put a few birds to bed and see if we could get lucky right off the bat. We eagerly accepted the challenge. With a little help into the lodge with our bags and a quick change of clothes, we were just about ready. We dumped the rest of our equipment off in Dave’s immaculate garage, that is exclusively set up to store all of his hunting equipment, (it was clear that Dave has a place for EVERYTHING and that he takes exceptional care of all of his equipment). From there we jumped into Dave’s big truck and away we went. Not more than 3/4 of a mile down the trail we had our first encounter with a big Black Hills gobbler. This guy was so big his beard was literally dragging on the ground as he crossed the road in front of us. That really got the adrenaline pumping let me tell you. We went a little further down the road and Dave took us to a place where we were able to do a quick set up before dark. With little success that late in the day, the best we were able to do was to put four big toms to bed before we headed back to the lodge for a fantastic gourmet chicken dinner prepared by Dave’s wife Teri. Then it was off to bed as 4 am comes early.
As with most of my past experiences, I never sleep well the night before a big hunt and this night was no different. With a quick breakfast pre-made for us, we were out the door at 4:45 sharp. By 5:00 am we were already on the top of the ridge and getting ready to set up as the sun was just starting to glimmer through the trees. By 5:30 we were well hidden in the evergreen trees and the toms started gobbling in the trees. Since my wife Sharon was up first, we made sure she was in the proper position from where we expected the first bird to come from. As the birds flew down from the roost Dave started in on the calls. Dave elects not to use a decoy and it was evident right off the bat that his calling expertise was truly amazing. He has a wide variety of calls, all offering different tones and pitches.
We had our first tom of the day work us for about 15 minutes and then slid off down the hill with a couple hens. After another half hour of nothing responding to Dave’s calling we made a move to another spot. As soon as we got set and Dave made the first call we heard a shock gobble from about 75 yards away and a big red head stuck up from through the trees. He came at us on a line. He ended up circling around us and coming within 5 yards and was heading away from us when Dave hit him with
a new call and immediately turned him around. He literally walked within 5 yards of Sharon but she was unable to get a clean shot without giving away her position. The big tom kept walking and Dave pulled out another call and pulled the bird right back around again – all I heard was BOOM! Our first bird of the day was in the bag. He was a beautiful mature Merriam gobbler.
After that we headed back to the truck to enjoy a wonderful lunch that Teri had packed for us the night before. By this time it was late morning and I was ready to head back to the lodge for a little R and R but Dave encouraged us to keep hunting. He had been watching the forecast and knew that we had rain moving in for the next couple days. I could tell that he didn’t miss out on the beautiful day that we had in front of us. I've learned long ago to trust the outfitter in most every situation, so after a relaxing lunch we were back to it.
Dave took us right back to the same spot that we started out at earlier in the morning. After walking about 200 yards we got set back up again and Dave hit the call. Right off the bat we had another hot tom gobble back at us. He was definitely on the move and was about 100 yards out as best we could tell. After another call from Dave we heard him again, this time we guessed 75 yards and moving left to right. After Dave’s third call we could hear that he had a couple of hens with him. This time the group was back to about 100 yards out again and kept going. After about more 15 minutes of silence we heard another gobble come from directly behind us. By the time Dave called again the bird was only about 50 yards out. Then it got real quiet for a good half hour. Dave pulled out a new call and as soon as he hit the call again a monstrous gobble erupted from right behind us not more than 15 yards away. It almost blew me right off the ground!!!
Unfortunately the bird came in directly from behind us and while I was facing due south, the bird came in from the north. I was straining to see where the bird was but couldn’t quite locate him. Then I felt a light tap on my right hip from Dave’s foot. I looked over to the right and I could see his big red head about 8 yards away. The tom looked to be playing a little cat and mouse, looking for this “hen” that he could not quite find. Finally as the tom got out to about 35 yards I was able to get up on my knees and pivot into
position. I patiently waited for a clean shot and just as I saw the red head stick out from behind the evergreen I squeezed the trigger. Dust and pinecones flew everywhere. In fact I wasn’t even sure I hit the bird until the dust finally cleared there lying in front of me was a very nice mature 20 pound Merriams gobbler! It was only 11:15 in the morning and we already had two beautiful birds in the bag!
I knelt down to preen the massive bird and was so impressed with how much more color and beauty these birds had compared to the Eastern toms that I am used to hunting back in Minnesota. As Dave and I replayed the last hour of the hunt I could tell that Dave was just as excited as I was, as the bird at one point was only 8 yards away from us. I had to ask Dave- What were you telling that bird to get him to come around like that after we thought we had lost him? Dave gave me a big South Dakota grin, I am guessing he was telling the bird something very seductive or maybe barking out orders. Whatever it was, Dave really knows exactly what to tell the birds as when the big tom finally came in looking for that seductive hen, it was very evident to me that Dave knows how to “Talk Turkey”!
Now it was back to the lodge for some well deserved pampering. We dumped off the birds and gear in Dave’s garage where I now had a chance to take a closer look at his overall operation. Being a big waterfowl hunter as well I enjoyed looking at all of the decoys and boats that Dave has ready on a moment’s notice for the upcoming fall season. From there Sharon and I were able to relax in the hot tub with a cool drink and enjoy the scenic black hills. That evening there must have been over 30 whitetail deer that came down from the hills into the lodge yard. This is truly a wildlife mecca!
The next morning as we awoke to another wonderful meal I was more than happy that Dave had pushed us to keep hunting the day before and get that second bird as it was pouring rain. I was also very impressed with the remodeled lodge that the Ciani’s had just completed. They lodge is actually an old 1800’s stone house that they renovated into a Five Star caliber lodge. With a separate kitchen and dining room facility on the main floor, along with a sitting lounge with a big screen tv, we enjoyed all of the comforts of home. The bedrooms were located on the second floor and were very comfortable as well. At this point with another day left on our expedition we had the option of taking in many of the area attractions or getting an early start back home. With the weather being uncooperative we elected to pack up and hit the road. With a few goodbyes and thank you’s to our new friends and hosts we were happy as can be with two birds in the bag- Mission Accomplished!
Part 2: THE REVIEW
|OUTFITTER KNOWLEDGE / PERSONALITY: ||Score||5 / 5 |
Dave’s turkey calling ability and overall knowledge of the birds was unreal. On multiple occasions Dave was able to turn the gobblers around, right back into gunning range. Dave also has patterned the birds very well and is definitely able to put his clients on birds. His overall passion for his hunter’s success was also very evident.
|QUALITY OF |
|Score||5 / 5|
All of Dave’s hunting equipment (turkey and otherwise) was top notch. Dave’s big truck Simba is exactly the type of vehicle that is needed to navigate the trails. The wide variety of Dave’s turkey calls were used to perfection. Dave has a place for everything in his garage. His organization and attention to equipment maintenance was also uncanny.
|Score||5 / 5|
The opportunity to harvest a bird was clear from the moment we arrived. It was evident that Dave had bird’s already scouted out. The first morning we had birds working us from start to finish and were able to put two birds in the bag within a couple hours of hunting. In addition after taking with Dave after the season was over, Dave’s hunters had 100% success with everyone harvesting a bird during the 2012 spring season.
|QUALITY OF MEALS |
5 / 5
The High Prairie Lodge just went through a major renovation in 2011 bringing the facility up to a 5 Star caliber. With a hot tub, big screen satellite tv and of course Teri’s fantastic home cooked gourmet meals, the lodging and meals were fantastic…almost too much!
HUNT PACKAGES AND
4 / 5
Dave offers 2 day and 3 day fully guided 2 / on 1 spring turkey hunts as well as non-guided hunts on exclusive private grounds. With the All Inclusive Packages Dave offers, along with the high caliber of turkey hunting available on his properties we didn’t feel the hunts were overpriced.
|OVERALL QUALITY |
OF THE TRIP:
|Score||5 / 5 |
Overall the quality of the entire trip from start to finish was excellent. From the beautiful scenery, to the exceptional meals and lodging and of course the world Class turkey hunting we had a blast!
|Overall High Prairie Lodge And Outfitters Scored 29 Out Of 30 Giving Them An "A" Rating. We Would Not Hesitate To Refer Them For Their Spectacular South Dakota Spring Turkey Hunts!|
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Part 3: Booking Information
|Contact Information For: High Prairie Lodge And Outfitters|
Outfitter: Dave Ciani
Address: 11904 Crook City Road Whitewood, SD 57793
Additional Services Offered:
In addition to Dave’s World Class caliber spring turkey hunts. He offers:
South Dakota Whitetail Deer / Mule Deer Hunts (November)
South Dakota Antelope Hunts (August - Sept)
South Dakota Pheasant And Upland Hunts (October – December)
South Dakota Duck And Goose Hunts (October – December)
Dave is also a licensed Saskatchewan Outfitter Offering:
For more information on any of these hunts be sure to give Dave a call ASAP as many of his hunts are pre booked each year from his repeat customers.
| more photos from the hunt...|
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