Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal.
A large number of upland bird hunters travel to enjoy their passion. In addition, many of these travelers are recent members of the bird hunting fraternity. Your writer also travels extensively in the Fall. In this month’s column, we’ll discuss how we prepare for a long distance hunt.
Our fall trips usually either begin or end in the West. Four years ago we started the season in Northern Ontario; three years ago we were in South Dakota in November; two years ago, in Montana in September; and last year in Kansas in November; and this year we’ll be chasing sharptails and Huns in Manitoba and Ruffed grouse in Western Ontario. We usually spend, however, most of October in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. All of this travel takes a serious amount of planning. Here’s a summary on how we plan our travels.
The very first step is to decide what species of birds you would like to try hunting. Chukar in Nevada, wild quail in Arizona, pheasants in South Dakota, sharptails and Huns in Montana or Ruffed grouse in Ontario? All these options are very exciting. A key answer to this question is what breed dog you have. Many hard-core pointing dog folks avoid the hard running wild pheasant at all costs. Unless, of course, your dogs have been trained on pheasants. Steve Ries, owner of Top Gun Kennel in Central City, Iowa, has some of the finest pointing dogs for pheasants I’ve ever shot over. He raises and trains shorthairs. Typically, however, I feel the pheasant is best suited for flushing dogs. If hunting in a high density bird area, there is often too much scent for a pointing dog. The flushing dog, however, will love all this scent.
The next step is to determine if your desired destination had a good nesting season. If the clutch and brood were exposed to severe hail or rain storms, this year’s crop could have been badly diminished. Call the state fish and game office and ask for the state upland bird biologist; they will give you an honest answer. For example, when we traveled to Montana two years ago, I called the Region Six office several times between June 15 and August 15 to check on brood survival. You should also check a state or province fish and game website where they often have a bird forecast. That forecast is usually posted in August.
Once we’ve decided on our destination, we check for accommodations in the area. Many of you have dog trailers so the question of whether dogs are allowed in the cabin or motel is not an issue. For us, however, we keep our dogs inside with us so we need to find dog- friendly lodging. We set up fold-out crates for the week so there is never an issue with dogs running free in the cabin. The next issue is a local veterinarian. This is very important. Last year, our six month old shorthair tore a 10” gash in her chest while jumping over barbed wire fencing in Kansas. We traveled one hour to a country vet to have the gash sewn up. We had already done our research so we knew exactly where to go.
So we know where we want to go, we know where we’ll stay when we get there and we know where to get our dog treated if there is an accident…now where do we actually hunt? Surprisingly, this has never been an issue.
In Canada, for example, there is immense land available to the hunter. Our group has taken numerous trips to Ontario for Ruffed grouse and has never seen a “No Hunting” sign. Also, we’ve hunted for days and have never seen another hunter. That, my friends, is grouse- hunting Utopia. Practically all major Midwest and Western states have some form of walk-in hunting program where out-of-state travelers are welcome. When hunting Montana in 2010, we hunted what they refer to as Block Management land. Block Management land is an arrangement between private land owners and the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department. This program incorporates huge blocks of land which means you most probably will not see another hunter all day long…and you’ll get 50 to 100 flushes per day. In Kansas, this program is called WIHA (walk-in hunting access). You may see other hunters but from a distance. Last year we had all the wild pheasant and wild quail action we could ask for so don’t feel you’ll be spending a lot of time searching for open land. Maps and access information for most all states are on their fish and game website.
Folks, that’s a basic primer on how we plan our long- distance upland bird hunting trips. If you travel this fall, travel safely, treat your dog well and have a good hunt. And, after the hunt, tell me about the trip.