Upland with Friends


It’s easy for me to get caught up in this solo pursuit. The rhythm of walking to the horizon with shotgun in hand appeals to my obsessive nature. Shut out the world and follow the dogs. Simple. Quiet. Rewarding.

But decades ago I came to be a bird hunter because of friends sharing their experience afield. I can’t say that upland hunting saved me, rather that it saves everyone around me from the monster I would become without it.

A trip to Big Sky Country reunited me with the group that helped seed Ultimate Upland. There’s a comfort in hunting with cherished friends. But the six year gap between hunts has also been unsettling.

Frequent exposure allows changes to creep up, go unnoticed. But these six years apart the contrast is stark. Time has caught my bird hunting mentors. Reflexes have been dulled. Endurance worn. It has slowed them. And they aren’t accepting these changes gracefully.

If it’s happening to my upland heroes, then it must be happening to me. I wonder if I’m on the rise or fading. Are my best days of bird hunting still ahead?

But then there are moments: a friend’s first Sharptail over my dog, an old gunzel dropping a double, campfire stories that provoke moronic laughter.

The hell with mortality.

Let’s just hunt so often we never notice the creep consuming us as we disappear over the horizon.



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  • Your best days of bird hunting are always ahead of you because we do not compare the days ahead to the glorious days past. Rather, we compare our future bird hunts with whatever useless, futile pursuits to which we find ourselves shackled in the off-season.
    Compared to the mundane life of a suburban dog trainer, any day in the field alone with my personal dogs and a shotgun is exponentially more exciting, more rewarding and just downright more fun than anything else I could be doing.
    Even in the years when the grouse numbers plummet and we are lucky to move a single bird in a day’s hunting, even those days shine with the find of a shed antler, a new and promising (although empty) covert or a large porcupine which the dog miraculously avoids.
    The wonders never cease as long as our legs carry us into the field with dogs coursing into the breeze in front of us. It just gets better and better as we learn the most important lesson the brushy hills hold for us: Gratitude.

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