On Friday morning, hunting guide Willie Dvorak found when it comes to the first day of hunting prairie dogs, women always shoot better and he attributes it to women taking in the lessons easier than men.
“First day of hunting, every single time,” Dvorak said. “I’ve guided over 1,500 hunters. Every single time a woman’s in the group, she outshoots the men first day.”
Dvorak guides hunters for prairie dogs, mule deer, American buffalo and coyotes in the Pierre-Fort Pierre area, which, for about 75 miles around, he said, is the greatest place in the world to hunt prairie dogs, not that many people notice. But he still manages to guide, by his count, more than 100 hunters per year, with help from what he calls a “synergistic” relationship with the Fort Pierre Motel.
Out in the field, a mistake Dvorak said he sometimes sees is an unwillingness to be coached, even by someone who has guided as many hunters as he has.
“If you or I would ask our insurance agent something, that insurance agent has forgotten more about insurance than you or I know. The hunting deal is the same way. Some people come out and they kind of figure they got it all figured out and their just not coachable,” Dvorak said.
Dvorak said he can help new shooters take prairie dogs from distances up to half a mile as long as they’re willing to listen and learn.
“The guy’s like, you know, he’s struggling, he can’t hit that prairie dog, I’m telling him what he should be doing and he won’t do it,” Dvorak said. “Then all of a sudden, they get to that point and it’s like, ‘OK.’ The other fun thing about prairie dog hunting is it’s a long-range sport. We kill a lot of dogs at a lot of distances people just can’t believe we can do it.”
“People walk in, they see your pictures in there, that 1,000-plus yards, they just shake their heads and say ‘How is it even possible?” Fort Pierre Motel co-owner Merlin Schwinler said.
Schwinler purchased the Fort Pierre Motel in April 2020.
“They make a buck, I make a buck, and the hunter has a fantastic time,” Dvorak said. “And the rancher gets rid of a bunch of prairie dogs. I mean, everybody wins in the deal.”
But it’s not just the Pierre-Fort Pierre area that see Dvorak’s clients. He also bases out of the Spink County town of Mellette and spends a decent chunk of the year in Alaska, as well.
Over the past couple decades, there have been the New York Police Department gunsmiths. And then the athletes. And the counter-sniper for multiple Presidents, and engineers for Winchester and Remington, but mostly plenty of regular Joes, as Dvorak calls them.
“I bring in people from all 50 states, 13 different countries so far,” Dvorak said. “Almost everything out of here is prairie dog.”
Prairie dogs, Dvorak’s main focus in the South Dakota arm of his business, don’t have a season designated by South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. The entire prairie dog hunting operation is very below the radar compared to South Dakota’s signature pheasant hunting season, as Dvorak describes it.
“The other thing about it is, because I focus on prairie dogs — and coyotes and some buffalo — is nobody knows, when they walk into your restaurant... you would have no idea you’re feeding a prairie dog hunter, almost for sure because they don’t wear that orange hat,” Dvorak said. He added that his clients who come to shoot prairie dogs tend to be “generous” people.
As far as a schedule, Dvorak considers roughly April 1 to be the beginning of his work year.
“We’re picking up a few coyotes at that time, but really prairie dog hunting until the first of August, and from August to September is Alaska. Come back at the end of Alaska I do antelope hunting, archery antelope hunting, then rifle antelope hunting. Also through October, a lot of prairie dogs,” Dvorak said. “And then the end of October, beginning of November we do a couple of archery deer hunts, switch over to rifle deer hunts, and then about the first of December I go straight into buffalo, which really we do those out of Mellette much more often... and then that’ll take me through about mid-February, and mid-February to the first of April, that’s where I do family vacations. We go somewhere warm.”
And then it’s time to jump right back in, Dvorak said.
“People that come on a hunt almost always are looking to have a good time. So it’s so easy, just treat them honestly, and then treat the landowner people honestly, treat these guys honestly,” he said, gesturing to Schwinler.