In certain parts of the country the length of the hunting season can be impossibly brief. Most New England upland lodges, for example, have a paltry 30- to 60-day span during which their “Sports” can ply the thickets for grouse and woodcock. And in many regions unfavorable migratory conditions can choke a duck outfitter down to a few short weeks of productive waterfowling.
These are small windows, for sure, but the opposite exists, as well, with some lodges enjoying epic-length seasons. Take Harpole’s Heartland Lodge, in Nebo, Illinois, where the annual shooting campaign stretches seven months! That’s a whopping 200-plus days spanning from early fall to the beginning of spring. The question for those considering a visit to Heartland is then, “When do I go?” The answer is that it depends on what they are looking for because, although certain aspects of Heartland’s offerings don’t vary much over the course of the season, other aspects such as weather and wildlife behavior change as the calendar flips forward. The best way to illustrate this is to break down Heartland’s season into three periods: early season, mid-season and late season.
Heartland’s early season runs from September 1 to mid-October. This is a great time for people who prefer warmer weather and who want to kick off their hunting season ASAP. The best combination of activities at this time is found in Heartland's Cast & Blast package, which includes morning upland hunting followed by clay shooting or fishing in the afternoon. Also, starting this year the lodge will be offering a limited number of September dove hunts. The lodge and its facilities are quieter during this period, which adds an element of privacy, particularly on weekdays. Another “plus” of the early season is the opportunity to capitalize on September promotional pricing (read: discounts). The final noteworthy aspect is that this is the best time for non-shooting guests to enjoy the plethora of non-hunting activities offered by Heartland, including hiking, ATV riding, horseback riding and more.
The mid-season runs roughly from mid-October to mid-December and is the busiest time of year at Heartland. It is when fall foliage and cooling temperatures combine to produce classic hunting conditions. The quail and pheasant hunting for which the lodge is famous is in full swing, and the best window for duck hunting occurs now as well. In addition to wingshooting, Heartland offers excellent whitetail deer hunting, especially during the November rut, making the mid-season the prime time for anyone interested in a wingshooting-and-deer-hunting combination trip. The lodge atmosphere during the mid-season is lively, as Heartland becomes the ultimate hunting camp filled with the buzz of upland hunters, waterfowlers and deer hunters swapping stories over morning coffee or at the dinner table.
The last segment of Heartland’s season runs from about Christmas to the end of March. Great upland hunting continues during this period, but the star attraction is goose hunting, which under the right migratory conditions can be sensational. The season begins with Canada geese along the Mississippi River in January, and then transitions to snow goose hunting in February and March. Heartland’s “goose team” consists of some of the best guides and callers in the world, so if birds are present and even the slightest bit willing, hunters likely will score big. When everything lines up, a combo hunt can produce a limit of geese and an incredible upland outing the same day. That perfect ticket should satisfy any wingshooter looking to finish up his or her season with a bang. And like during the early season, promo rates—or “late-season specials”—are offered during this period.
All of this adds up to a wide variety of possibilities—which is great because the preferences of Heartland’s regular guests range broadly. Lodge owner Gary Harpole likes to say that he could throw away the calendar and still know what month it is just by looking at the repeat guests sitting at the breakfast table. Some come every November, when the upland habitat is at its peak, while others opt for March, because they like to close out their hunting seasons with snow geese. But regardless of which seasons guests prefer, they know that they are going to come away with wingshooting memories to last throughout the year.
Harpole’s Heartland Lodge is a full-service Shooting Sportsman Endorsed Lodge. To learn more or to make a reservation, call 800-717-4868 or email [email protected].
Photographs courtesy of Harpole’s Heartland Lodge.