When it comes to running a successful hunting lodge, there is one aspect that ranks above all others: service. A hunting operation can have world-class accommodations, five-star dining and picture-perfect bird habitat, but if guests aren’t treated respectfully and in a professional manner, they aren't likely to return.
One place where service is key is in the field. Hunting guides are responsible for providing an enjoyable and productive experience—and doing so in a well-organized and safe environment. The Signature Lodge by Cheyenne Ridge Outfitters is well aware of this, which is why the operation pays so much attention to not only its facilities, food and property, but also its personnel—especially those “on the front lines” conducting hunts.
According to Operations Manager Sean Finley, South Dakota’s Signature Lodge offers pheasant hunting from early September until early December and can employ as many as 20 guides per day. As one might expect, the lodge is very selective when it comes to hiring. “All our guides are local South Dakota residents who have guided pretty much their entire lives or been involved in the shooting sports their entire lives,” Finley said. “A lot of them are also professional fishing guides during the summer and then hunting guides in the fall.” In addition to a hunt master and several “house,” or full-time, guides, the lodge has a stable of qualified part-timers. “This state is known for having guys who save up their vacation every year to take off the months of September, October and November and guide for local lodges. We have bank presidents, electricians and guys who have plumbing businesses working for us.”
Of course, guides have to meet certain standards in terms of their ability to deal with guests in a polite, professional manner while always maintaining control of the hunt. “Gun safety is the number-one issue,” Finley said. “That and being able to control a crowd of hunters who are excited and wanting to shoot at moving targets amongst one another.” The Signature Lodge employs the traditional block-and-push style of hunting, with blockers on the end of a field and wingers on the edges. As for a hunter-to-guide ratio, the lodge tries to team at most four hunters with one guide plus an assistant. The lodge also does not mix groups. “We’re not looking to put 30 people in a line,” Finley said. “If it’s a group of four, they hunt together. If it's a group of five, they hunt together. If it’s a corporate group of 10, they hunt together. Each group has its own gamut of guides and guides’ assistants who help them.”
Another thing the lodge likes is for each guide to have three or more of their own dogs. “We’ve found that it’s better if we allow the guides to bring the dogs that they’ve trained and worked with on a daily basis,” Finley said. “And if they have at least three dogs in their repertoire, they can rotate dogs between hunts and keep them fresh.” Ninety-nine percent of the dogs used are Labrador retrievers that can push through corn, navigate big country and pick up a lot of birds. And with hunters allowed up to 20 birds per day each, that can be a lot of birds . . . .
A testament to how much the guides enjoy working at Signature Lodge is their longevity with the operation. Finley mentioned one guide having been there for 20 years, a half-dozen having been there at least 12 years and plenty having been there at least five years. “We just don’t have a lot of new guides every year,” he said. “A lot of them just do it year in and year out and are dependable and seasoned. We’re fortunate that we have a lot of experienced people.”
When asked about the types of guide reviews he receives from guests, Finley said, “Probably the biggest accolades I hear are about the dogwork—controlling the dogs—and just the overall friendliness, the overall camaraderie that the guides bring to the hunt. The professional way in which they handle the hunt and keep everyone safe. Remember: We’re 20 roosters a day here per person. So a group of five is taking a hundred birds in the aggregate each day. That’s a lot of shooting going on.”
For these reasons and more, many guests request the same guides year over year. “Six out of 10 times guests request the guides they’ve had in previous years,” Finley said. “We try to make that happen whenever we possibly can.”
Naturally, such service in the field is consistent with the hospitality offered in the lodge. And this combined with the luxury accommodations, meals and overall experience is why guests return to The Signature Lodge again and again.
The Signature Lodge by Cheyenne Ridge Outfitters is a full-service, Shooting Sportsman Endorsed Lodge. To inquire about the lodge’s world-class pheasant and quail hunting, email [email protected] or call 877-850-5144.