The Shooting Sportsman Endorsed Lodge program continues its “behind the scenes” series with Harpole’s Heartland Lodge, in west-central Illinois. Lodge owner Gary Harpole offered some interesting insights into the operation….
SSM: How long have you been at Harpole’s Heartland Lodge, and what compelled you to get involved with the lodge?
Gary Harpole: I started Heartland Lodge 24 years ago. I grew up with the tradition of going to my grandparents’ house and hunting with a large family. We hunted quail, pheasants, deer, turkey, rabbits, squirrels, ducks and just about anything that was in season. Growing up, I always thought it was pulling the trigger and harvesting game that I enjoyed the most. But as I have gotten older, I don’t remember pulling the trigger as much as I remember the great times and memories with my grandparents and family. I remember sitting around the breakfast table enjoying a feast along with hot black coffee. I remember my grandma making amazing dinners with homemade pies and cakes for desserts. After breakfast we would stop at the grocery store and get a couple pounds of lunchmeat, a loaf of bread and a soda. Then we would go to my uncles’, other relatives’ and friends’ farms to see how many coveys of quail or pheasants we could find. I started the lodge to continue my family hunting tradition and to share it with others.
SSM: What’s a typical day of hunting like at Heartland Lodge?
GH: The morning starts out with a full hot breakfast at 8. Our breakfasts and dinners are served family style, with plenty for everyone! Guides arrive at 8:45 to take you to the field when you’re ready. The morning hunt lasts until noon, when you return to a full buffet that is available from 12 to 1:30. This gives each hunter the flexibility to take care of any personal things before enjoying lunch. The guides return at 2 to pick you up and take you back into the field, where you hunt until 5. After the hunt there are hors d’oeuvres waiting. After hors d’oeuvres, dinner is a homemade country gourmet dinner like my grandmother used to make.
SSM: What aspects of your operation seem to impress guests the most?
GH: The style and quality of hunting we offer. It’s like turning the clock back 50 years and hunting like you did as a kid. We hunt some of the same farms I did growing up. You may hunt one farm in the morning that is known for holding pheasants, and then in the afternoon hunt a different farm that holds mostly quail. You’ll hunt fencerows, grass edges along row crops, CRP and timber. Having the opportunity to harvest both pheasants and quail like it was done 50 years ago makes it a truly unique Midwest hunting experience.
SSM: What is your favorite item on the dinner menu?
GH: Our homemade roast meal is an old family recipe. It is served hot with gourmet mashed potatoes and gravy, homemade rolls, old-fashioned corn casserole, festive salad and cobbler with ice cream.
SSM: What part of the job do you find the most gratifying?
GH: Seeing other families and friends start their own hunting traditions at Heartland Lodge. Many of our hunters repeat each year and make it a tradition. Many times we have three generations hunting together. My grandpa would be very proud to see our family hunting tradition being continued and growing along with others creating their own traditions on the land we hunted growing up.
SSM: What has you the most excited about the coming season?
GH: We have added a new property and have a lot of great new things we will be offering. This property is extremely reminiscent of the pristine, wild-bird cover we hunted in the good old days. Guests who appreciate a genuine Midwestern upland experience are really going to love this property.