Gary Harpole, owner and general manager of Harpole’s Heartland Lodge, had things humming along very nicely. His west-central Illinois lodge had become world renowned for its high-quality upland bird, waterfowl and whitetail hunting. His posh lodge and expert guiding team had helped win Heartland numerous awards, and by just about every metric his operation was a huge success. Still, Gary wasn’t completely satisfied. There was one final—and very personal—thing missing.
Although Heartland’s upland program was running like a well-oiled machine and was considered excellent by the lodge’s guests, it had been developed as a pheasant-and-quail combination hunt in cover that was managed more for pheasants than bobwhites. The experience just didn’t feel like the hunting Gary remembered from his adolescence—when he and members of his family would load a truck with dogs and a cooler full of soda and bologna sandwiches and spend the day hopping from farm to farm hunting wild bobwhites and the occasional ringneck. The farms had been owned by family and friends and had not been subjected to the “clean” farming practices that ultimately would change quail hunting for the worse. Those outings rated amongst Gary’s fondest hunting memories but slowly had faded as agricultural technology had taken its toll on the quail habitat.
After years spent longing for those bygone days, Gary started looking closer at some of the farms he had frequented as a youth and saw enough potential to bring back the old-fashioned-family-farm style of hunting. In addition to the personal gratification, he was certain that this was the kind of hunting that many Heartland guests would enjoy. So one by one he began analyzing and forming plans for each of the old farms. The Kelly Farm, Uncle Lyle’s, Borrowman’s, the Kinscherff farm . . . . Gary consulted with Quail Forever and enrolled in the CRP program after is was determined that a simple 60-foot buffer strip of native grasses lining the fields would be enough for many of the farms to regain their old quail-friendly forms.
So far the results on the five 80- to 500-acre farms have been impressive. Each property has been seeded with quail and, although occasional reseeding is necessary, the feeling of hunting an old family farm has been fully restored. Lodge guests have enjoyed the new offering so much that Gary is already eyeing additional farms for possible conversion. Not only that, but the initiative has been a win-win for just about everyone. The habitat work necessary to promote quail results in a slight reduction in agricultural revenues, but the farms remain profitable and the owners reap the rewards of a new revenue stream from hunting and the pleasure of bringing back something from the good old days. The biggest winners, of course, are Heartland Lodge’s guests, who now can mix a day or two of traditional quail shooting with their pheasant and waterfowl hunts.
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