Your Path to Becoming an Upland Bird Hunter

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7 reasons to become an upland bird hunter … and one "Path to the Uplands" promise to help you make the journey

By Tom Carpenter

Hunting isn’t Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever’s reason for being. But the grand majority of members are, in fact, hunters. Why? Because in North America, hunters have always been wildlife habitat’s strongest advocates, wildlife’s staunchest allies, and publicly accessible lands’ steadiest supporters.

Wild places, especially our endangered uplands — the places quail, pheasants, prairie grouse and other magnificent gamebirds call home — need more hunter-conservationists. 

There is renewed interest in hunting these days. Maybe you want to try hunting again. Maybe you have friends or family who hunt. Maybe you have tagged along or even dabbled. Maybe you are ready to turn dreaming into doing. And maybe you’re trying to decide what kind of hunter you want to be: deer, turkey, waterfowl, small game …. or upland birds.

We’re here to make a case for that last one. It’s clear that Quail Forever wants you to discover the magic of upland bird hunting and become an ardent supporter of wildlife habitat and conservation. It’s also true that your life will change for the better forever should you decide to travel the Path to the Uplands.

Here are 7 reasons to become an upland bird hunter, and our promise to help you on the journey.
 

1 > BONDS: LIFE WITH A BIRD DOG

The bond between human and canine is unmistakable. The bond between hunter and bird dog runs even deeper — far beyond the magic of hunting together, and well into every aspect of life.

Learning. Understanding. Companionship. Coexistence. Love. Acceptance. A bird dog can be both family pet and hunting companion, cuddle-bum lover and bird finder, couch potato and fierce worker in the field. The best bird dogs have the closest ties to their people.

Having a bird dog provides ample inspiration to get outdoors and stay active year-round. Hiking, fishing, canoeing, boating, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, running a race, walks, picking mushrooms or berries … bird dogs love participating with you in all of it.

And there waiting every autumn is the exquisite beauty of you and a dog in motion in a wild and quiet place, hunting together in the now for wild birds.
 

2 > MOTION: EXERCISE AND ACTIVITY

To be most effective at most other types of hunting — deer, turkeys or ducks for example — you need to be sedentary and even hidden. 

In upland bird hunting, the whole idea is to stay on the move, walking through prime habitat with your bird dog in a search for game, instead of waiting for the game to come to you.

If you like to be in motion — exploring what’s over every hill, around every bend and beyond every horizon — upland bird hunting is the perfect complement to your wanderlust.
 

3 > LANDSCAPES: WILD PLACES

Walking and wanderlust take you into the heart of stunning upland panoramas. A pheasant field of bluestem grass and dried wildflower stems, pungent with the aroma of autumn. A thickety draw promising bobwhite quail. Shortgrass prairie sprawling to the horizon and inviting you to search out its bounty of sharp-tailed grouse or prairie chickens. A clovered lane through a young forest ablaze with the colors of autumn and alive with the promise of ruffed grouse.

Every hunt takes you to a magical place. What’s more, ample public lands await — places you and I already own or have access to — and are there for the exploring. You don’t have to have an “in” or “connection” to hunt millions of acres of public or publicly accessible land.
 

4  > MOMENTS: SKIPS OF THE HEART

Upland bird hunting presents “I am alive” moments where heartbeats skip and memories etch themselves forever to your soul.

Dogwork. The excited tail wagging of a flushing dog coursing birds. Your throat tight as you walk in on a pointing dog locked down on a bird or covey.
 
Action. The cackle of a rooster pheasant launching into the blue. The every-which-way explosion of a covey of quail in your face. The chuck-chuck-chuckle of sharp-tailed grouse or prairie chickens flushing to an ocean of sky. The thunder of a ruffed grouse in the popple, or the twitter of a woodcock in the tag alders.

And a Trophy finally in hand: a sense of peace and joy and accomplishment as you hug a bird dog that’s licking your face: We did it!
 

5 > FOOD: CULINARY DELIGHTS

Wild game meat is among the world’s finest and most respected delicacies. The proper field care and creative cooking of gamebirds is integral to the hunt, culminating in a gourmet meal of celebration and gratitude for wild places and the wild birds you brought to bag.

6 > SIMPLICITY: GEAR NON-INTENSIVE

You don’t need piles of expensive gear to be a successful upland bird hunter. In fact, those who keep things simplest and travel lightest are most successful.

In the field, your greatest asset is mobility, both in terms of being able to walk far and then swing a shotgun freely on short notice at winged game. You need a shotgun, shells and hearing protection. Hunting vest or jacket. Water for your dog and you. Perhaps (or not) an electronic collar and/or bell on your dog, a whistle, and a small dog first aid kit.

Clothes suitable for hunting are easy to coordinate. Good boots are essential; footwear quality should never be compromised.
 

7 > LIFESTYLE: A FULL HEART AND FOREVER HOPE

Becoming an upland bird hunter fills a life with year-round activity and joy.

A bird dog becomes part of your life — training sessions, conditioning activities, long hikes. There’s shooting practice on summer evenings. Reading and research on your favorite quarry, or something new to hunt, and where to do it, is never work. Getting active in your local PF or QF chapter is highly suggested … and a great way to meet great folks willing to mentor and help you.

And there are the lessons for life that upland bird hunting teaches. That doing and being is the reward. Never give up. Keep going. Every step, every mile, gets you closer to your next skip-of-the-heart moment and yes, without apologies, the joy of sweet success … a bird in hand.
 

OUR PROMISE

We pledge to help you become an upland bird hunter with Quail Forever’s Path to the Uplands Content Series. Visit us often — at our Path to the Uplands web page, on QF and PF social media, in the pages of Quail  Forever Journal — for help, advice and insights on all the topics that matter – bird dogs, best shotgun choices, good shooting, gearing up, finding places to hunt, planning your adventures, dressing and cooking gamebirds, and much more. 

It’s time to step off.

Tom Carpenter is editor at Pheasants Forever. He got his first hunting dog at age 10, and has been journeying the upland bird hunting path since 1974.

Photo credits: Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever staff.