Wingshooting

Chris Mathan has joined the ranks of local heroes working to introduce kids to the shotgun sports. Ms. Mathan, through her online field-trial publication Strideway, recently formed the non-profit Youth Field Trial Alliance to acquaint youngsters in the U.S. and Canada with the benefits and beauty of bird-dog field trial competitions.

For generations, the 12-gauge shotgun has been synonymous with duck hunting, but many hunters are choosing 20 gauges for close-range environments.

There are several logical reasons for this trend. Older hunters can’t tolerate the abuse that a 12-gauge spitting 3-inch or larger waterfowl loads inflicts on arthritic or surgically repaired shoulders.

If the British had won the War of Independence in 1776, chances are you’d be wearing tweed instead of camo or blaze on your wingshooting adventures.  

Upland hunters in particular tend to romanticize traditional estate tweed through that gauzy sentimentality of a Doris Day close-up. Armed with our venerable double gun on a crisp autumn afternoon while adorned in tweed breeks, jacket or waistcoat and flat cap, as Fido scours the landscape, we hike though the heather ever vigilant for a flush.

Robert Milner of Duckhill Kennels is upping the ante in what constitutes a well-trained bird dog. The influential source of British Labrador Retrievers based in Somerville, Tennessee is now mandating that all of its dogs complete the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Test.

Monty Lewis called the bobwhite quail hunt a “Fellowship Opportunity,” and he wasn’t kidding. Our party of 20 current and retired board members from Ducks Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited Canada had collectively served nearly 400 years as volunteers for the revered wetlands conservation nonprofit.

The hunts are not official DU events, but as Mr. Lewis described them “Traditionally, after joint meetings in the Southeast, we have a recreational activity. We get the Canadians out of the cold weather. I’ve been the host a few times and this year we’re extending some Southern hospitality where it’s the dead of winter for them.”

“Much of the pleasure of shooting is what accompanies it and sharing it all with a good friend.” ~ George Bird Evans, The Upland Shooting Life (1971)


The child tells what he got for Christmas, the mature man tells how he spent the day; the immature hunter tells how many birds he shot, the mature gunner tells of the experience. If I can impart a sense of gunning values through my writing, I urge the gunner at any age to lift himself above the childish state of mind, thinking only of himself and not what he is doing to the birds.

– George Bird Evans, An Affair with Grouse (1982)

A much-welcomed late September Canadian cold front pushed out opening week temps in the 80s from my Northern Minnesota ruffed grouse hunting haunts. Temps were now in the 50s and soon my springer Hunter and I hit the road for our first grouse hunt of the year.

When a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? The answer is “Yes the wolf hears it.” The wolf’s direct descendant, the dog, shares the wolf’s very sensitive hearing. According to the sparse research available, the dog’s hearing is four times more sensitive than man’s.

I set out quail hunting with David Lanier at Carr Farms in the plantation belt around his hometown of Albany, Georgia. He’s an affable guy with your average mid-50s paunch and a friendly clean-shaven face shaded by the brim of a blaze ball cap. The brush pants, frayed at the hems, bunched up at the buckled wingshooter boots scuffed and rough, his forest-green hunting shirt nicely ironed and the pouches of his vest swollen with gear (he always hunts with a camera). 

The first thing we saw, through the mist and fog, were dark shapes on the hillside. In scattered bunches they huddled together, at rest, while others fed around them. A relic of a time when wild bison roamed across the great prairie with no fences to stop them.

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