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Pure audaciousnessPure audaciousness

Pierre, South DakotaPierre, South Dakota

The toughest part about a trip to Pierre, South Dakota, is going to be how you pronounce the state capital’s name. It is not, as its spelling implies, like the French man’s name—Pee-air—but like the structure at the end of a dock—a pier or your colleague at work—peer.

  • Pierre Regional Airport (PIR) is where people land to hunt at Tumbleweed Lodge. Photography by Mike Fizer
  • Mustang Aviation is the busy FBO at Pierre Regional Airport in the state capital.
  • Jim Peitz is the owner and the native South Dakotan appreciates the wide open spaces to fly in his state.
  • Pheasant hunting season begins in October.
  • Hunters begin their day at the Tumbleweed Lodge in Harrold, South Dakota, with a hearty breakfast.
  • Moving line abreast across the fields, highly trained dogs flush out the birds for the hunters.
  • Each hunter is allowed three birds killed each day of the hunt.
  • Jim Peitz takes off in his Cessna 180 from a field near Tumbleweed Lodge in Harrold, South Dakota.
  • Buddy is just one of the many highly trained dogs working at the Tumbleweed Lodge. The Black Labrador breed is one of the most popular on the preserve.

After you’ve got that taken care of, it’s smooth sailing because Pierre is about as unpretentious as you can get. It’s the second smallest state capital population-wise (Montpelier, Vermont, is the smallest) and that makes the city feel more like a neighborhood than a population center. It is ironically at the near exact center of the state, South Dakota looking more like a rectangle than most states. And it’s flat, flat, flat—tumbleweed-rolling-across-the-runway flat. You-can-see-for-miles flat.

Its flatness makes for a great flying state. With an airport that feels more like a GA airport—there’s only one commercial airline here—Pierre Regional Airport has two 6,000-foot-plus-long runways. And when you take off, the sky is so open and the vistas so expansive, it’s like the whole wide world is ready for you. 

Pierre is situated along the Missouri River and if you follow it north, you’d fly over the Oahe Dam and up to Bismarck, North Dakota. The Oahe Dam’s powerplant provides the electricity for most of the north-central United States. It is the world’s largest Hydro-Earth dam. This area of the Missouri River was a key stop for Lewis and Clark on their westward exploration.

The flight you want to take is to the west. Here in this wide-open country are the Black Hills, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Flying over these landmarks is almost more magical than visiting them on foot. The size, magnitude, expanse, and pure audaciousness of these monuments and this area are best viewed from the sky.

In the fall, the area sees an interesting population increase from a remarkable pastime—pheasant hunting. Farms around Pierre are groomed to keep the birds, and others such as grouse, quail, and partridge, healthy and populous. Starting in mid-October (the season is Oct. 19, 2019, to Jan. 5, 2020), hunters arrive at the airport and are transported across the area to lodges and farms. There, hunters will flush the birds out from the fields and shoot just enough to prepare a traditional South Dakota treat, which has been a part of life here since 1919.

Tumbleweed Lodge in Pierre offers a great South Dakota pheasant hunting experience. Outdoor Channel called it “one of the greatest hunting lodges in the world.” Owned by a local family, the Bollwegs, the 18,000-square-foot lodge is expansive, beautifully outfitted yet rustic feeling with a communal dining room, great room featuring a fireplace, cigar room, and inviting bar (although no drinking is allowed when hunting).

Julie Walker

Julie Summers Walker

AOPA Senior Features Editor
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.
Topics: Travel, US Travel

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