Wingshooting

Nebraska seems to garner less attention than its neighbors to the north and south. But that’s part of the charm. South Dakota has more pheasants, but Kansas holds more quail and the Dakotas have plenty of prairie grouse. The annual waterfowl migration passes through all four. However, Nebraska often produces good hunting for both upland birds and waterfowl simultaneously, and that’s the cherry on the sundae.

Chukars are fascinating birds living in an enthralling yet forbidding world. Fortuitously, I developed a passion for the species in my teen years and never looked back.

I’m not sure who first called it a Grouse Safari. It might have been Ed. But I do think it’s fitting. Just like hunters travel greater distances to pursue big game in Africa, a group of Southern Appalachian grouse hunters travelling several thousand miles to hunt grouse is an appropriate moniker. It’s something friends and I have been doing for about 20 years now.

As an American by birth and a Southerner by the grace of God, the pursuit for Bonasa umbellus, or ruffed grouse in particular and woodcock to a lesser degree, requires some commitment and travel to arrive to the promised land of hunting these game birds.

Bird-hunting season is just around the corner. Are you in shape? Upland wingshooting, especially on public lands, can be a workout. Bird hunters traipse through fields, marshes, woods and sloughs.

Across much of the South the opening of dove season is a social gathering marked by lots of shooting, good-natured ribbing among friends and, after the shooting is done, a Southern-style barbecue complete with a cold beverage or two.

Halfway through a box of lavish bismuth shot, watching yet another rooster soar (unscathed) into the sunrise, I began to question my devotion to the idea. The echoes from the peanut gallery didn’t help my confidence in the matter. Are you sure you don’t want to go back to the truck and swap out guns? I worked the bolt and dismissed the notion of swapping guns. To do that would be to quit, and that wasn’t going to happen.

Recently someone told me that 2020 has been the strangest year ever. I added even though I spent part of my childhood along the Congo and in Sumatra, 2020 is still the strangest. Societal currents during the past eight months or so have been difficult for me to handle. Witnessing anger, depression, insanity and ideological polarity adversely affects one’s psychological well being. We have largely been stripped of our humanity and it all creates an aura of being trapped in a shrinking room. My refuge? The outdoors.

Something we hunters have in common is a deep fondness for hunting tradition and all its trappings. How many of us do you know who wax nostalgic about the good old days and carry their father’s gun or knife or other hunting heirloom passed down from a recent ancestor that not only anchors the original owner to the present day, but its current caretaker to the past?

Spring weather makes every dog trainer and handler smile. Low temperatures, occasional rain, and breezy winds bring dogs alive. Conditioning is regular, scenting conditions are good, and it’s a time when regular progress is made. If only we could roll right into hunting season… 

But summer is in between, and the hot, dry temperatures and bright, cloudless skies threaten to undo all of our hard work. Keeping your pup safe in the heat is the first order of the day, and continuing to build on their foundation is the key to a successful fall. Here’s how some pros handle the heat.

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