Wingshooting

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?

There’s a state of mind that numbs you to hunting adventures, even though the drive is only two hours east. Planted in front of a computer for another 12-hour marathon, collapsing after dinner on the sofa in big-screen semi-consciousness watching fighters with shaved heads tattooed to the max sporting nick-names like “The Refrigerator,” “Meat Missile” and “Freak Show” square off in the MMA octagon to kick, elbow and pummel their opponent’s faces into bloody goo, it’s sublimely painless to slip into a rut barren of outdoor aspirations.

One of shotgunning’s most underutilized live resources is the pest pigeon population. Generally pest pigeon shooting here in the USA has little resemblance to the woodpigeon shooting that is so popular in the British Isles. In England woodpigeons are usually decoyed, and you hire a guide who has the birds scouted, the land owner’s permission to hunt, and all the equipment so that clients can enjoy great sport.

Wing shooting on the farm where I grew up in Montgomery County Illinois, about 25 miles south of Springfield, in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s was pretty much limited to pass shooting doves down by the pond, jump shooting ducks on local farm ponds or hunting quail along the fence rows and Osage orange hedge rows that bordered most farm fields and pastures in those days.

The Golden State may not have a reputation as a top destination for hunters, but it’s home to half of the quail species found in the U.S.

No, I’m not talking about Bill Murray’s character in that annoying movie and no, I am not now playing for the other team.  But I am thinking of a gentleman from the prairie: Mr. Bobwhite. 

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