We took up a new sporting pursuit—upland-bird hunting—that keeps us closer to home, walking the prairies and grasslands that we’d previously driven right through on our way to fish.
Not having grown up in a hunting family, I was a little intimidated by the prospect of shooting a gun, but over the next couple years, D’Arcy and I took a hunter education course, bought a pair of over-under shotguns, and spent time shooting clays at the local range. When I saw Charley again last year, I told him how I was intimidated and nervous about my first season in the field, but excited all the same. He assured me that these were appropriate feelings. We talked about the satisfaction of providing your own meat for the dinner table, and the sheer enjoyment spending time in the field with friends.
At the beginning of 2019 hunting season, D’Arcy and I spent hours walking in the woods searching for ruffed grouse. We found a few, but we simply couldn’t hit them, which was a little frustrating. Then one day, we mountain-biked into a wilderness area to fish and brought a shotgun along, just in case. Sure enough, during our ride out at the end of the day, we spotted some grouse sitting in a tree. Everything finally came together, and I bagged my first bird!
We hoped that this success would continue into pheasant season, but we soon discovered that we had lots to learn. During the first month, we went out after work several times a week, walking for hours at a time with nothing to show for it. One day, after nine fruitless hours in the field, we returned discouraged to where we’d parked our truck. A stranger was getting ready to go out with his dog, and when he recognized our dejection, he invited us to come along. We didn’t find any pheasants, but we learned a lot about how to hunt and how to work with a dog. This was the first of many times other hunters were willing to share their knowledge with us. We shared our experiences on our Instagram feed, and people came out of the woodwork with offers to take us out. Over the next couple months, I met so many amazing and helpful folks who taught us how to find birds and how to work a dog in the field.
When we did flush pheasants, both D’Arcy and I struggled with our shooting technique. In our excitement, we found it difficult to wait for the gun to catch up to the birds. Fittingly, our first success came when we were alone. We’d driven to a new area and had hardly gotten out of the truck, when I spotted pheasants on the ground nearby. We put the birds up, both got off a shot, and finally had a wild pheasant for our table. As we drove home, we passed our supermarket, and I felt a surge of pride that we had provided for ourselves and wouldn’t have to stop at the meat counter.
Our first bird-hunting season turned out to be better than I could have ever expected, even though we didn’t get many birds. D’Arcy and I experienced so many new things and discovered a fascinating landscape, right outside our door. We’d spent so much time staring at the surface of the water that we’d missed out on the joys of the foothills and wide-open prairies. The solitude you feel on a prairie that stretches from horizon to horizon is inspirational and humbling. In our search for birds, we learned the intricacies of their habitat, which opened our eyes to the natural world in new ways. We now look at fields and prairies with the same inquiring eyes we had reserved for rivers and streams, seeing bird covers and landscape features from a hunter’s perspective.
Last winter, we took the next logical step by adopting a Brittany puppy to help us get even more out of the hunting experience. The process of training North and learning to work with her in the field has been yet another wonderful process of discovery, and we can’t wait to see her point her first bird for us. Of course, we don’t want to wish the summer away—we still love those mountains streams—but we also can’t wait for those first crisp mornings on the prairie with our new best friend and hunting partner, North, leading the way.