OFFICIAL OUTFITTER REVIEW OF HIGH PRAIRIE LODGE AND OUTFITTERS
NAMED THE 2020 HUNTTHENORTH.COM OUTFITTER OF THE YEAR!
Mallard Hunting With 410’s In The Black Hills With High Prairie Lodge And Outfitters
By Dan Wennerlind
There’s gold in them there hills… as the old saying goes. Well we found there to be “Green” in them there hills as well, on our last trip to the Black Hills.
Being a diehard waterfowl hunter these days, it is not always easy to find those “Hidden Gems” anymore for a remote and productive duck hunt, with all of the internet scouters constantly scanning the recent posts to pinpoint “where all the ducks are”, on a weekly basis!
However, I recently found one that I couldn’t pass up. My longtime friend and full time outfitter, Dave Ciani of High Prairie Lodge and Outfitters runs one of the premier hunting camps in all of North America. Dave’s lodge and properties are located in the heart of the Black Hills in South Dakota.
OUTFITTER DAVE CIANI OF HIGH PRAIRIE LODGE AND OUTFITTERS WITH HIS TWO TRUSTY LABS AFTER A SUCCESSFUL DAY IN THE FIELD
Over the years I have successfully hunted antelope and turkeys with Dave at his 5 Star Lodge, but never had the opportunity to take advantage of his World Class caliber duck hunts. When most waterfowl hunters think of the best places in the country to shoot big, late season greenheads; flooded timber holes in Arkansas or wintering holes in central Kansas and sand bars on the North Platte River in Nebraska are some of the top spots that now come to mind. But a late December / January trip the Black Hills is most likely not any ANYONE’s radar that I know, Until Now….
Having known Dave Ciani and his lovely wife Teri for close to 20 years now, I have grown to know Dave as a wildlife manager first and a hunting outfitter second, and that says a lot knowing that in my humble opinion Dave is one of the Top 100 Outfitters in North America. Also backed up by a Ducks Unlimited recent survey of the best outfitters in the country as well. In fact, two years ago on a summer trip out to Dave and Teri’s wonderful Bed and Breakfast Lodge in the Black hills, Dave gave me a tour of the new 300 acre property he had just purchased. His vision was to turn it into a World Class caliber mallard “hotspot”.
With several Hot Springs ponds located on the property and Dave’s first hand knowledge and experience from setting up several other “Hot Springs” hot spots for mallards in the area, on another local 200 acre property, this new property offered Dave everything he needed to turn his vision into reality. Fast forward 24 months and Dave now hosts over 10,000 greenheads and Canada geese that winter on his 3 properties late into March each season.
Five Star Lodging And Gourmet Meals At The High Prairie Lodge- Historic Renovated 1800’s Stone House!
Now for you do-it-yourself hunters don’t get too excited yet. First off, as most serious duck hunters know, attaining a non-resident waterfowl hunting license in South Dakota requires that you put in for a draw tag in late June / early July each year, so there is some planning that goes into this. And second, almost all of the late season waterfowl that winter in the area, are found on private ranches as there are not many public hunting areas that have open water that late in the year.
However with Dave’s private land hunts, a 3 day non-resident hunting license is easily attained through the summer draw and with Dave’s multiple hot springs private land locations, there are sure to be large concentrations of waterfowl all the way through the end of the duck hunting season in mid January.
Using his vast knowledge of wildlife management practices, Dave has also incorporated all of his properties with an abundance of both waterfowl and upland birds. In fact we found there to be just as many pheasants and sharp-tail grouse on Dave’s properties as there were ducks and geese. This makes for an AMAZING waterfowl / upland combo hunt opportunity!
Now for the good stuff, I arrived on a cold day in January to Dave’s lodge and met up with two of Dave’s long time hunting buddys, Jim Jones of Prairie Wind Decoys and their good friend Matt Aley. We would also be accompanied on the hunt by Dave’s full time guide Brett. At dinner that night Dave showed us photos from that morning, using his trail cams pics that he has set up in front of the permanent duck blinds. There were literally hundreds of fat, chubby greenheads within feet of the blinds. Talk about getting us excited!!! If the next days hunt was half as good as Teri’s delicious elk pot roast dinner, we were all in for a real treat. Did a mention Teri is a professional gourmet chef. The food served throughout the trip was FANTASTIC!!!
After dinner, Dave’s good friend Jim Jones made a bold statement and pretty much forced Dave to put his money where his mouth was. Jim and Matt had talked before they left and had brought along five – 410 shotguns. They put it on the table that they wanted to make this a 410 ONLY hunt! This just got real!
Having only fired 1 shell from a 410 shotgun at a duck before in my life, and feeling like I was shooting a BB gun at the bird, with no ill affect, I was just a little skeptical to say the least but hey I am always up for a new challenge and put my vote in as a YES! So it was on, the next day we would ALL only be bringing 410 shotguns with to the blind.
Now Dave had been monitoring his ponds with the trail cam photos daily and with the temps dipping down into the single digits, the birds weren’t moving until early afternoon, so we were in no big rush to get to the blind the next morning. This was fine by me, as we awoke to a cold January morning of -2!!! That may seem extreme to even some diehard duck hunters but be rest assured that Dave’s blinds are the best there are & come fully equipped with heaters & comfy seating for all.
By 10:30 am we were all getting a little ancy and we decided to hit the road and head over to Dave’s property located about 15 min away from the lodge. By 11:30 we were all set, overlooking a flooded 3 acre corn pond with about 5 dozen of the best mallard decoys money can buy.
It didn’t take long until we had a single drake mallard headed our way about 10 yards off the ground. He was locked in, wings set and feet down from 100 yards out. It was clear this wasn’t his first trip to the old corn pond, that’s for sure.
With as many ducks as there were working the ponds, we decided to take turns with the new 410’s and let everyone have a chance at their own limit. Jimmy Jones was up first. As the big drake made his final descent into the decoys, Jimmy stood up and with a single shot dropped the big mallard stone dead in the middle of the spread. His golden retriever Ronan made a great retrieve and we were on the board! Not more then 10 minutes later a pair came sailing right in. It was Dave’s turn next, and with one pull of the trigger we were 2 for 2 with the little 410’s. I was on the far end of the blind and about 20 min into the hunt I was up. The other guys had went 4 for 4 on big greenheads so I was a little nervous now, having only shot a 410 one time before. Another big, single drake sailed right into the spread and I stood up and pulled the trigger and…. down he went stone dead! I was surprised and relieved at the same time. The boys were all cheering me on as my chessy Brandy made a nice retrieve on the gorgeous drake.
After about an hour we had 15 greenheads in hand. It was magical how the single drakes and pairs would come from the roost pond about a ½ mile away over and over like clockwork. Once in a while a small flock would come and we would all take a shot but for the most part we simply went right down the line taking turns. With 3 drakes in hand I was starting to get a little cocky with my new toy, wondering if I could even miss. I pulled up on the next drake, banking from right to left and bang, bang……. bang and not a feather dropped. I quickly found that the error for margin on these little guns is a lot tighter than with my old 12 gauge that’s for sure.
After a little razzing from the boys I was ready for another crack at my 4th big greenhead. This time my aim was true and I dropped him at 35 yards again, stone dead! Whew Hoo! Meanwhile Dave’s head guide Brett finished his bag limit with a long 40 yard shot and dropped his 5th greenhead of the day with only his 5th shot – what an accomplishment!
By 2:30pm we had a full limit of 25 big greenheads in hand, all shot with 410 shotguns. And most impressively we had not lost a single bird! For the next half hour we simply watched the show as the bigger flocks were now lifting off the roost pond and heading over for a visit. It was incredible to watch. Days like this are what duck hunters’ dreams are made of!
That evening back at the lodge, we were treated to a wonderful variety of hors devours including pickled jalapeno duck poppers, smoked cracked-pepper duck bacon accompanied by a variety of delicious cheeses. Teri served it with some of her homemade peach moonshine. What a treat. We barely had room for the incredible dinner Teri prepared a delicious homemade dinner of dry-rub ribs, roasted carrots and garlic mashed potatoes and chedder bay biscuits, ending with a delicious fresh apple pie for desert, It wasn’t hard to snuggle up next to a roaring fire on Dave’s comfy leather couch and drift off to a short nap before bed, with a full belly after a cold day in the duck blind.
Due to the fact that the next day was the last day of the South Dakota duck season, Dave elected to hunt the roost pond, for the first time that year. That meant that we had to get out there early. We arrived at the pond just as the sun came up and softly kicked the birds off the pond. Today we were also hoping to get a crack at a few of the big honkers using the pond as well.
By 8:30 am we were all settled into Dave’s big bind. While we finished getting settled in, Matt got the fire going in Dave’s wood burning stove. This was quite a blind I’ll tell you what. Not 10 minutes into the hunt a pair of big honkers locked in on the spread. Dave yelled “taken em” and we all pulled up with our 410s and both birds dropped bellies up in the decs. The perfect start to the day.
Unlike the day before, we had much larger flocks of mallards working the spread now, trying to get back into their roost pond. The first flock of about 10 birds dropped in and we dropped 4 nice greenheads. Then another small flock of 4 mallards came in and both drakes met their fate. After everyone settled down a bit we decided to go back to taking turns on the birds. Feeling more confident today I started taking shots up to 40 yards out and didn’t skip a beat. The first drake of the day for me dropped stone dead with a single, carefully aimed shot on the edge of the decoys. We all picked up right where we left off the day before and by 10:30 am we had half our limit of drake mallards and 2 nice honkers in hand.
By this point we were all getting a little hungry and chef Matt cooked up a few duck breasts on a small cast iron skillet. Between the duck breasts and breakfast burritos Teri prepared the night before, we all had warm tummies full of goodness! The ducks continued to work the spread all morning and into the afternoon. There were a few misses I’ll admit but not many. It was close to 12:30 in the afternoon when Dave decided we should make an official bird count after I dropped a beautiful drake wigeon. We had 9 more to go for a full limit. The next flock that came in was made up of about 20 birds, with a nice mixture of mallards and wigeons. The boys picked up their 410’s while I picked up the camera. 4 drake wigeons splashed down feet up while the mallards flew off unscathed. We now had room for 1 more mallard each to fill our full bag of 6 ducks each. We each took turns on our last duck of the day until we finished it off. What A Hunt!
It honestly couldn’t have been more rewarding. Taking two full days limits of big greenheads, with a few bonus ducks and geese to match, all over decoys feet down and wings set. It wouldn’t be far fetched to think that Dave saved this spot for our special hunt, but that’s not even the case. With all of the different hot spring locations Dave has in the area on his private ranches, there are large flocks of mallards and geese on each one. Dave only hunts each pond once every other week so the birds never get blown out and Dave said there was only one group of hunters all season that didn’t harvest a full limit and he said- “Believe me, they had plenty of chances”. After the hunt was over Dave took me around the entire 300 acre property on the side by side, to show me all of the management practices he has done to ensure he holds ample wildlife year round. I saw a mixture of more wild sharp-tails and pheasants in our 20 minute drive than I have seen on any property in South Dakota that I can remember.
With the 5 star lodging and gourmet meals added on to one of the most memorable duck hunts I can remember, I was pleased and honored to shake his hand at the end of the hunt and name Dave Ciani of High Prairie Lodge and Outfitters The 2020 HuntTheNorth.com Outfitter Of The Year!
OFFICIAL OUTFITTER REVIEW
OUTFITTER KNOWLEDGE / PERSONALITY: | Score 5 / 5
Both Dave and his wife Teri are the kind of people that make you feel like family the first 5 minutes you walk int the door. Dave has extensive experience as a professional outfitter as he has been running his outfitting business for over 25 years. With Dave’s background in wildlife management, being a conservation officer prior to starting his outfitting business and his passion for his client’s success, Dave puts 100% effort into every hunter’s experience- planning and implementing management practices on his properties year-round. Teri runs the lodge and a year-round bed and breakfast as well. She is a professional gourmet chef and rounds off the entire experience making sure every hunter that arrives a client, ends up leaving, feeling like apart of the Ciani family! 5 / 5!
QUALITY OF EQUIPMENT USED: | Score 5 / 5
Dave only uses the very best equipment on the market. That was evident throughout the hunt. Dave has 3 pole sheds full of the best hunting equipment money can buy. On our hunt we experienced this first-hand. The hunting blinds we hunted out of were first class. Dave even had a custom wood burning stove made specifically for 5 of his blinds to offer and authentic feel for the hunt and adding a much needed heat source on the cold winter days in the blind as well as offering a great place to prepare a warm meal during the hunt. Dave has more decoys that you could ever use and has several dozen of his best mallard decoys that he paid extra to have professionally painted for even better success. Dave also has a team of professionally trained retrievers to assist in both his waterfowl and upland hunt. 5 / 5!
OPPORTUNITY TO TAKE GAME: | Score 5 / 5
DAfter reading the story above, I don’t even know why it is necessary to fill in this portion of the review. The only thing I will add on is to say that Dave does not over hunt his properties. In fact the blind we hunted the first day had only been hunted 2 times that entire season and the only reason we hunted to roost pond was that it was the last day of the season. We did not get special treatment during our hunt. Dave said that every group but 1 that hunted with him last season experienced a full limit of greenheads just like we did! 5 / 5!
QUALITY OF MEALS AND LODGING: | Score 5 / 5
Both aspects of this hunt were 5 Star! The newly renovated 1800’s historic lodge is incredible! Dave and Teri take great pride in their lodge. Teri’s incredible meals and apps were out of this world. I feel confident is stating that in over 20 years I have not experienced a better lodge and meal package anywhere across the continent. 5 / 5!
HUNT PACKAGES AND ADDITONAL FEES: | Score 5 / 5
BDave intentionally does not list his hunt pricing online as he is very open to customizing his packages for each group. Dave simply requests that anyone interested in his hunts contact him directly to work out the best package for each group. Every aspect of Dave’s hunts are top notch!/p>
OVERALL QUALITY OF THE TRIP: | Score 5 / 5
The overall experience with High Prairie Lodge And Outfitters was FANTASTIC! There was not one aspect of the hunt I would change. From the first-class lodging and meals, to the incredible hunting and comradery in the blind, this was definitely a trip of a lifetime. This is the 3rd hunt I have been on with Dave and every hunt was been of this caliber! 5 / 5!
Final Score | 30 / 30
Overall High Prairie Lodge And Outfitters Scored A 30 Out Of 30 Giving Them A Perfect Score and An “A” Rating. We Would Not Hesitate At All To Refer Dave Ciani For Any Of His World Class Hunting Opportunities and Thus Have Named High Prairie Lodge And Outfitters The 2020 HuntTheNorth.com Outfitter Of The Year!
Contact Information For: High Prairie Lodge And Outfitters
Outfitter: Dave Ciani
HPLO Hunt Packages Offered:
Black Hills Late Season Mallard / Canada Goose Hunts
Black Hills Waterfowl / Upland Bird Combo Hunts
Black Hills Spring Merriams Turley Hunts
Black Hills Trophy Whitetail / Mule Deer Hunts
Black Hills Archery Early Season Antelope Hunts
South Dakota Pheasant Hunts