There are dozens of good reasons to enjoy the sport of upland hunting. Below are my personal top 10, as seen through the eyes of a fellow in his early 40’s, with an active family and a friendly springer spaniel. I reserve the right to alter the list, as age and experience dictate.
10. Get outside
In a world where entertainment and connectivity can be had without ever getting out of the house it’s more important than ever to pursue activities that immerse us in nature and reminds us that sitting at a desk, or on the couch, is not our natural habitat. Bird hunting is an ideal avenue to get outside and enjoy the natural world. The fields and forests where our quarry waits is therapy in and of itself. Some of the best connections with friends and family can be made on a logging road, or sitting on a tailgate, during, or after, a long walk.
The added benefit of getting outside is the incidental burning of calories, which may further improve your quality of life. Even with ample food and the requisite libation after the hunt, it is exceedingly hard to gain weight while upland bird hunting. Those seeking the greatest weight loss will want to specialize in grouse hunting. A more addictive form of exercise had not yet been devised.
9. Focused relaxation
When you look at hobbies that refresh the mind and spirit, they are often activities that require total concentration and focus. Virtually all hunting and fishing activities are excellent in this regard. Bird hunting, in particular, allows you to leave the stresses of daily life behind by demanding you be physically and mentally immersed in the act of hunting. Bird hunting is exceptional as you focus on the terrain, the cover, the dogs, others in our hunting party and, hopefully, the act of delivering a successful shot, after flushing the birds you seek.
8. Hunt for an hour, hunt for a week
Quality bird hunting can be found in close proximity to a large percentage of folks. In addition to private property, State game lands and Federal lands offer good access to hunting.
As a resident of central Pennsylvania, my favorite hunt occurs early in the fall, between the end of the work day and supper; when my trusty springer spaniel and I sneak off for a quick mid-week hunt on a nearby state game land. If a trip further afield is in order, upland bird hunting can be a rewarding do it yourself experience, or a posh outing to a full service lodge. Your hunt can be successful as a solo venture or a large group outing.
I partake in a roughly ten person grouse hunting excursion to the North Maine Woods every other year that has become a must do trip for that crew. We enjoy the travel, the camaraderie, getting off the beaten path, cooking great food, running the dogs and we even manage to shoot a few birds.
7. Start after breakfast, finish before happy hour
This benefit cannot be overstated. With age, experience, and mistakes, comes wisdom. With wisdom comes the realization that success is not best measured by hours in the field or number of limits bagged, but rather by the quality of the overall experience. Stories told, good food consumed, and cocktails shared, become more important milestones. Upland hunting is exceptional in this regard. In addition to great scenery, fast flushes and good shooting, the best upland hunting allows for, some might say requires, ample food, camaraderie and sleep.
6. Natural History
Hunting wild birds leads you to questions like, “What is that red berry?”, “Do pheasant or grouse eat that?”; “Why are woodcock often, but not always, found in low, wet areas?”; “What’s the name of that shrub?”; What took place at this site over the years to create the habitat that now holds these birds?”
It has been said that to eat wild game you must know how to find your food’s food. The journey to understand what puts birds in a certain place at a certain time will lead you to a better understanding of native and invasive plants, forestry and field practices, soil types and geology. Looking back, you realize the knowledge of natural history you have acquired through observation and research brings you at least as much pleasure as the weight in your game bag.
5. Family Time
As I trained my first bird dog pup in a household already occupied by a couple of high energy children, I found that my wife was almost always supportive of my trips afield, so long as they included the dog and the kids. My wife achieved some well-deserved alone time, I logged a hunt, and I received additional brownie points when I returned home with a tired dog and tired youngsters. So much fun was had afield that my wife eventually began to join us on a number of those late afternoon outings. You can’t put a price on those times.
As a bonus, bird hunting is truly a lifelong hobby. Teach your kids to enjoy the hunt and you just may someday enjoy the same experience with their kids.
Upland birds are thoughtful enough to live in some of the prettiest places known. The mountain west, the extensive grasslands of the interior, The mixed forests of the upper Midwest and Appalachians, the pine plantations of the deep south and the shrubby bottomland of the woodcock’s migratory paths all offer exceptional sport. No other hunting type offers the excuse to explore so much of the varied scenery of the North American continent.
3. Guns & Gear
I am a self professed gear junkie. With the exception of fly fishing, few other sports offer the opportunity to dissect the finer points of high end gear like upland hunting. As you progress in the sport, you’ll likely find the desire for another shotgun (OK, many other shotguns), better brush pants, or a snazzier hunting vest. However, it is worth mentioning that those of modest means or frugal nature are not excluded.
Upland hunting budgets can be easily adapted to individual circumstance. Many great upland hunters and wingshooters were made with a modest shotgun, a pair of tough boots, and little else. I have a good friend in his seventies, a lifelong dairy farmer who is tough as nails, long on common sense and who makes it a point to outhunt and outshoot those almost half his age during our biannual grouse trip to the northwoods. Particularly annoying is the fact that he does this with an old Winchester pump gun, the same boots he was wearing when he climbed off of the tractor, and none of the fancy doo-dads and upland garb which the rest of us find to be nearly essential. He’s been known to wander off on his own without a dog and outhunt us. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure why we invite him...
2. The Friends You’ll Make
While hunting can be a wonderful solitary pursuit, bird hunting often lends itself to a more social atmosphere. You’ll learn more about a person in a day of hunting than you will in a year of professional interactions. An interest in upland hunting will lead you to head afield with friends, and their friends, who will often become your friends. You’ll bond over great shots, or similar preferences in guns and dogs. Or you’ll bond over the friendly ribbing you take about your poor shots, or the sometimes heated debates you’ve had over a dissimilar preference for guns or dogs.
Many an upland bird has been harvested without the aid of a canine companion. In fact, there is merit to the cerebral solitude of walking up birds without a dog. For most upland bird hunters, however, watching a dog hunt, flush and retrieve are some of the greatest pleasures of the sport. Selecting, raising and training a good bird dog can bring you to, or over, the edge of obsession. And seeing your own dog realize its true potential, will fill you with a joyful pride that is hard to beat.
If any of these observations peak your curiosity, get out and find a bird hunting friend or a chapter of Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, The Ruffed Grouse Society, The American Woodcock Society or Woodcock Limited. All of these groups are anxious to share the merits of their sport, and in doing so, encourage a bright future for upland birds and their habitats.