The bird hunting season never seems long enough. This first full year of Ultimate Upland was filled with great moments that helped define our mission to be the best resource in the country for bird hunting enthusiasts. We’ve got a dedicated following and nearly 1,000 new members joined the the Ultimate Upland Lodge last year. With additional focus on social media we managed to expand our fan base to over 4,500. One look at our online footprint combining our site visits, members and social media confirms that we have become one of the largest dedicated bird hunting presence online.
With the emphasis on the digital world and technology, it’s easy to click past the real world accomplishments. But Ultimate Uplanders are firmly rooted in the outdoors, and though the forecasts and bragging appear online, the real passion starts in the field. We have members from all 50 states, at all levels of experience hunting with every breed of dog imaginable. They carry all sorts of guns chasing every species of upland bird. The collective knowledge of our group is formidable and extensive. And the willingness of Ultimate Uplanders to share experiences is what makes the site a true joy to oversee.
In April after a long battle with both kidney and thyroid problems I lost Finn, my GSP and the matriarch of my bird chasing. A true punch to the gut that only other bird hunters can honestly understand. These dogs are more than pets, they are partners in our obsessive pursuit. And Ultimate Uplanders were there to commiserate and to share. And over the course of 2011 we saw it again and again as canine hunting partners were lost our community gathered round to soften the blow and offer support.
Over the remaining Spring I worked to fill the void by focusing on our lab Wyatt, trying to hone his obedience and retrieving.
But when Summer scorches into the South the bird hunting and training pretty much shuts down. Luckily these are the months that most state DNRs elect to update their upland regulations. Consolidating all these regs into one place is one of the pillars of Ultimate Upland which keeps us busy along with the planning for the Fall hunting trip.
In late Summer we also managed to put the final touches on the online store. Members and fans who’d been requesting shirts and decals finally had a place to purchase. One of the most fun items we released was the Rooster Ruler® which coincided with our first annual Longest Pheasant Tournament. We’re the only organization in the country that found a way to run a nationwide bird hunting competition. The tournament ends on February 20 with the close of the last pheasant season. We’ll crown the 2011-12 winner then (the lead is a monster 41.25″ tip-to-tip which will be very difficult to beat).
In early September we embarked on our bird hunting odyssey to the upper Midwest. First stop was North Dakota and Teddy Roosevelt’s old stomping grounds. This was Wyatt’s third year in the field and with three months of hunting ahead and just a single dog, he had a big load to carry. It took a few days to really get back in the swing of hunting for both of us, but chasing the native Sharptail over the infinite rolling acres of the Little Missouri National Grasslands proved a good refresher.
After getting back into bird hunting shape, we allowed our Facebook fans to select the next state to target and they pointed us to Montana. We spent the better part of our 10-day license trying to locate the Hungarian Partridge in this visually stunning big country. Unfortunately bird numbers had been negatively impacted by successive harsh Winters and a wet Spring, and though the Sharptail still could be found the non-native Hun proved elusive. With some good fortune and some bird hunting Kharma on one unseasonably hot afternoon Wyatt and I were able to bring our first Hun to hand.
Next we headed to our first South Dakota rooster opener, considered by many to be the Mecca of bird hunting. We embedded with the Double K Guides of Gregory, SD to witness the Orange Army descend upon the area. And the pheasant did not disappoint. Even in a down year the shear number of birds was a site to behold. After the SD opening weekend we trekked to the northern part of the state and met up with a couple Ultimate Uplanders where Wyatt got his first serious hunting with pointers and setters. Watching different styles of dog work and run together is a treat that most single breed purists miss out on.
When our Dakota ticket expired it was on to Nebraska to meet up with the good folks at Breed Sponsor Bluestem Kennels for the Husker state pheasant opener. And their trio of Wirehaired Griffons combined with some superb shooting made for a memorable time. Wyatt and I also made our return to the sandhills of Nebraska National Forest where we pitted ourselves against the late season sharptail that had thoroughly beaten us the previous season. But armed with experience from earlier in the season we managed to level the score. Fans and members got to take part in the chase vicariously with one of the new features that got a lot of attention this season, the Ultimate Upland Blast Cam.
And we finished the western swing with the return to our happy hunting grounds in north central Kansas. My dad joined us again testing out his new bionic knee replacement as we reunited with the folks of this area who have become such a fixture in our brains. The knee was a large improvement to last year’s hunt, but it still did not improve the luck with our decade long quest of pass shooting Kansas Prairie Chicken without success. At the conclusion of Kansas we reunited with family for the Thanksgiving holiday and were welcomed by the addition of Rio, the next generation of bird dog newly arrived from Jornada Setters in New Mexico. And so the off season will be filled with getting the young Llewellin in tune with her bird hunting genes.
The 2011 season was marred by depressed upland populations across the midwest; in some cases we were faced with record low surveys. But the friends and memories forged in the fires of gunpowder burned brighter than the dimmest forecast. And though the seasons are winding down, Ultimate upland has been firmly established by passionate bird hunters across the country. We’re going to continue to elevate our upland agenda, offering windows into original bird hunting experiences across the country while promoting the sport at every opportunity. Plans are already underway for next season’s hunts and we’re looking forward to sharing the journey with you.