Wingshooting

When we think of bird hunting, we instantly go to a sacred place that exists in our hearts – a sacred covert we protect. We dream of finding that place again and want to know it will still be there long after we are gone. As a group, we engage in friendly debates about the dogs, guns and game we prefer. We share our stories, but it’s that moment we find alone in the field that we think about at the end of the day, in a comfortable chair. The birds we hunt are worth finding for the first time, worth fighting for and worth remembering.

American shotgun shooting with English influences. English traditions with an American twist. Call it what you wish but Richard Smith’s The Royal United Company has created a hybrid style of sport shooting that has everyone talking. From game birds to sporting clays, in just a few years, the now 30-year-old originally from South West England has not only made sport shooting more accessible by creating a completely mobile shooting experience, but has changed the way many American view the sport here in the states.

In Minneapolis-St. Paul we boarded a two-engine plane and buckled in while the pilot tried to start the engines. An hour later, we deplaned and made preparations to camp out in the airport. Apologetic employees gave us cookies and stale sodas while we called our loved ones and scratched out our last wills and testaments on the backs of airline napkins.

Griffin & Howe clients recently had the chance to hear shooting pointers from one of the world’s top grouse shots, and then to shoot simulated driven grouse under his expert eye. Phil Burtt, who manages the shooting at England’s Belvoir Castle, was in the US with his boss—Her Grace, the Duchess of Rutland—and presented a tutorial at Hudson Farm, Griffin & Howe’s shooting preserve in Andover, New Jersey, on March 19, 2014.

Story|Photos by Tom Keer

Say the word “woodcock” in a room full of bird hunters and you are likely to capture most everyone’s attention. Hunters are fascinated with the eclectic, migratory bird for a wide variety of reasons. Dyed-in-the-wool woodcock hunters seem to have camaraderie that knows no bounds. I suspect if you asked any of them if they’ve ever wanted to embark on a five-month journey that follow the flights from their breeding grounds to their wintering grounds most would say yes. Most nod in agreement when the phrase “anything done in moderation shows a lack of interest” is quoted.

Story | Photo by Ron Spomer

In the 1960s pheasants were big game birds in South Dakota, the upland equivalent of Canada geese. Tough, durable, armed with spurs and ready to shoulder through a dense swarm of shot. A big ringneck was no bird to fool with. The full-choke 12 gauge was the hands down favorite for taming South Dakota’s feral pheasants.

But I didn’t use one.

The skiff cracked skim ice as our duck-hunting party worked the oars to push through the cypress swamp of Beaver Dam Lake. Dawn infused the mysterious atmosphere with Mississippi sapphire light while a hand-held torch illuminated the murky water oozing up through the fissures. Our destination slowly materialized as an apparition in the mist. It was a blind, the weathered plywood camouflaged by scavenged, gnarled branches, perched atop stilts, medieval and mesmerizing.

While more than 100 acres of winter wheat blanketed the spring soil not ten yards forward of our position we felt strangely closed in, but it was nice, even intimate. Nothing means more to a young son sitting in the darkness than knowing he’s next to his dad; I can say the same for sitting next to him. We sat, whispered and giggled for nearly an hour before I noticed a silver hue raining down through the treetops over our shoulders. It was just enough to expose the haunting glow of layered fog as it began to roll back its stranglehold on dew-laden wheat. As minutes ticked away so did darkness. The silver hues succumbed to radiant shades of amber and gold as frigid temperatures dropped several more degrees. My son Jacob said I looked like a bull with “smoke” surging from my nostrils.

When I developed the “Hunting With Hank” television series starring my Llewellin Setter Hank, for what was then The Outdoor Life Network, I had confidence that the series would find an audience. But, the amazing success of Hank’s show actually caught me off guard. Along with its popularity, came requests from viewers all across the country to explain how I trained Hank for the work they saw him performing on our upland bird hunts that spanned the country.

Dog trainer extraordinaire Robert Milner wants to ask sportsmen a personal question: Would you discipline your own children with a shock collar?

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