The Tailgate Obsession

truck tailgates

Bird hunters seem to have an unhealthy fixation with placing birds on tailgates, bumpers, and hoods for photos. I honestly don’t get it.

Upland hunters are blessed to pursue game in some of the most scenic places known to man: mountains, prairies, marshes, desert — the wildest of places. We hunt with dogs that are skilled and striking. Not to mention the birds, the patterns and array of feathers are the epitome of a master’s canvas. And some hunters are fortunate to have a shooting stick with character and history that shows it’s been been put to use.

There’s a chance if you snap a photo of you, your dog, your shotgun, a game bird if you were lucky and the place you were hunting, then one day when your mind begins to falter, you might actually recall a perfect moment afield.

In this age of social media as the upland seasons roll in, I’m reminded that one of every four photos I see will be someone’s tailgate. Was the arrival back at the truck the best part of your day? Are you secretly comparing tailgate pictures with friends? “Oh baby, you think that tailgate is something, take a look at this one. Look how nice and straight the birds are lined up across those ridges.”

Please stop.

Don’t let anyone think the highlight of your day was that vehicle. Don’t let people believe for one second you’re plunking birds from that truck. Chevy, Ford, Dodge — they all spend plenty on advertising, they don’t need your tailgate or bumper posted all over hell-n-back to help spread the word that they make trucks with tailgates.

I fully understand that vehicles offer a nicely elevated and level platform for your still-life. But do me a favor and turn 90 degrees and look at the area from where you just came. Now turn 180 degrees and take a look in that direction. Now turn back to that piece of stamped metal. Elevated and level be damned, which of those views would anyone prefer to see?

And now to address the inevitable “who cares what people think?” You’re posting images on social media platforms just for you? No, it’s SOCIAL media. Photos of your bird hunting adventures will be seen by your friends and family and often, if “liked,” will be seen by their friends and families. These photos should reflect the majesty of this upland pursuit. The beauty of the birds, dogs, guns and habitat can offer those less familiar with hunting a fresh perspective. There is something really cool about that potential that a tailgate has nothing to offer but dents.

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  • How true, but a little harsh. Today the truck is a major part of the upland bird hunting process. The hunter, dog and gun don’t walk out the back door and find the bird anymore. Play some traveling music, sit on the tailgate with your dog and enjoy it all. Such negativity should not be allowed to intrude into where the magnificent wild birds live and die for us and our dogs. By the way, you failed to mention Toyota.

    • Sometimes advice is just advice — asking bird hunters to portray this pursuit in the best light to those unfamiliar is far from negative.

  • I just found and read this article. I understand the author’s sentiment. However, if there is one common outdoor pursuit that is at most risk of becoming elitist (other than trout fishing) it is bird hunting. I see more condemnation among fellow bird hunters than within any other group. What gun folks shoot (double vs pump/semi) and how people choose to harvest game (only shooting pointed birds vs any ethical shot) are just a couple of examples. The author’s condemnation of tailgate shots just ads to the list. Deer and duck hunters don’t seem to condemn each other like this. Why must bird hunters? I’ll hunt with a semi-auto over good dogs and shoot birds they don’t point while wearing brown jersey gloves and afterwards proudly take a picture on my tailgate. I will let you hunt however you want (within the law) and take pics of your birds laid out on a log with your double gun broke open, 2 spent shot shells, leather gloves, and leather whistle lanyard and congratulate you just the same. And I’ll bet that I respect the majesty of the birds and landscape just as much as you.
    Let us not become a sport where others are looked down upon.

    • Frank, upland hunting is at risk of becoming irrelevant, misunderstood and hated more than it is of being elitist. What your fellow bird hunters think is not the issue; what the 95% majority of Americans who don’t hunt believe is way more important — it’s that majority that permits the pursuit to continue when they just as well could legislate against it.

      While you are happy to be a member of the “if it’s legal it’s equal” crowd, you might consider taking a couple steps back to realize it’s only legal because there’s still a majority of people who don’t hunt and elect to tolerate it.

      Disagreement and discussion can help hunters see the impact of actions they may be overlooking. It’s healthy and needed. And if you don’t see evidence of this in other segments of hunting then it’s a sign of the zombie mentality that will actually lead to the doom of the pursuit.

      While I’m here: the reason a break-action shotgun is the superior tool afield is because spent hulls are ejected straight to hand, not scattered. And when you hunt around prickly pears and sand spurs and have to remove them from bird dogs, you’ll soon realize why leather gloves are a much better solution than brown jersey gloves.

      The gloves and gun won’t impact the way other’s view your hunting. But your tailgate photo…. it still will.

      • I appreciate your sentiments and arguments thought hey might be a little off putting personally. You say I’m happy to be a member of the “if it’s legal it’s equal” crowd. But you don’t know me personally and have never hunted with me. You just got that from what I said about tailgate pics. You might be surprised if you hunted with me. Also, I’m not the enemy. I have been a professional bobwhite quail/greater prairie chicken researcher/manager/biologist for over 15 years and have done more to advance the cause of bobwhite and prairie grouse conservation and management than likely most of your readers. I have also hunted upland birds for over 30 years from Missouri to Montana. Not to brag, but just to illustrate that I am well aware of the issues that confound management of upland game birds and the future of hunting in general. And, I’ll bet I’m as dedicated a conservationist and vigorous a sportsman as anyone here, even with my tailgate photos. As a matter of fact, my life has been dedicated to conservation at the expense of my family life, future earnings, more out-of-state hunting trips, more and better guns, and more bird dogs!!

        My larger point, beyond the tailgate photos, was to illustrate that upland hunters, in general, tend to be more elitist, and, that elitism does more to repel folks from getting into upland hunting than encourage it. If we are indeed trying to grow the sport, being more welcoming and inclusive is far better than not. The biggest threat to hunting that most state agencies deal with is recruitment and retention of hunters. Being relevant and inviting to new hunters is crucial and inclusion of different, but legal, firearms, accessories, and methods are key.

        As to your quote “The gloves and gun won’t impact the way other’s view your hunting. But your tailgate photo…. it still”, I’ll have to disagree. My tailgate photos may turn people off, but they will not illicit any more or less calls to a legislator or votes against hunting than a photo of birds nicely posed with a majestic background. They may be offend you personally as a bird hunter, but they are not a threat to the future of hunting.

        By the way, I have ZERO against folks that use double guns or leather gloves. Heck, I use leather gloves. But, I DO NOT condemn those that choose to or see my choice of gun as superior. Same way with tailgate photos. It may not be your cup of tea, and I agree there are much better ways to pose birds. But folks that take them should not be condemned, and they are certainly not jeopardizing the future of hunting.

        I agree that debate within a community is necessary and vital. But condemnation of legal and ethical activities in favor of a position one personally sees as superior or offensive gets us now where. To encourage folks to take better, more classy pictures is fine…to make them seem as lesser hunters and conservationists for choosing to is not.

        I have veered off the topic of tailgate photos because your response stimulated some thoughts. Upland hunters come in all varieties. We should welcome that! But the upland hunting community, more than any other, seems to look down on its fellow community members that do not use certain guns or accessories or shoot non-pointed birds, etc. And that is a shame and will never GROW this sport. The guys that came before us that wore duck brown hunting coats and shucked a pump over a dog of questionable lineage while staying within established limits and hunting ethically built this sport. There should still be room for those guys and their way of hunting.

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