A few years back, a friend jokingly prodded me about the obsessive nature of my love for upland bird hunting. Because “hunting season only lasts 6 months” he said I would “be deprived of happiness during the off-season”, half of my life. It is true that nothing brings greater joy to my life than watching my dogs do what they were born and bred to do. A motionless point, contrasting our fast-paced world, immersed within the beauty of some forgotten western landscape, like a piece of framed artwork, is an irrefutable breathtaking scene. In my opinion, the experiences collected during the hunting season are worth a few months of insipid living.
So how do you replace such an inimitable feeling? Can you? I’m sure some folks can and do. For me though, these replacements are only distractions, and therefore, are avoided. However, I don’t just sit around twiddling my thumbs through the off-season. Instead, I invest this time to the planning and preparation for the following hunting season.
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On the Monday after the Texas quail season ends (my last hunt of the year), I get out my Rite in the Rain notebook and begin listing out the states and species I’d like to hunt at some point in my life (it’s a long list). Next, I navigate to the respective state wildlife departments and add season dates for each line item. I do my best to memorize these season dates, paying special attention to species of interest with overlapping seasons. That list remains nearby at all times.
Every season, I aim to take one “big trip”. A multi-week trip, chasing multiple species in some faraway place that I’ve never been to or hunted before. Last year it was a 21-day stent starting in western Oregon and ending in eastern Idaho. The year before, it was a 28-day trek through Utah, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, and Wyoming. These trips require a lot more planning than a couple of google searches, but the memories made are without equal. Once I’ve fleshed out the details, distances, species, finances, and time required to pull off the desired trip, I request the time off from work and block it off on the calendar.
Acquiring the time off is only the first hurdle. With a loose agenda in place, I launch a lengthy research effort into the species and general areas I plan to hunt. What are the habitat, terrain, and weather like? Is there plenty of public land access? Are there any hazards to consider? What new equipment might I need to purchase for this excursion? I read technical publications from state wildlife departments, scientific publications on research efforts, and popular/creative articles written by hunters and biologists alike. All these resources complement each other in painting a picture of what I should expect. I also add the information gleaned from these readings to my bird hunting planner. Then, I move to OnX Hunt and drop pins in potential hunting/camping locations. As the research process continues, I gradually amend these prospects to areas that may increase my odds of success.
With the details all worked out, its time to buy essential equipment, set money aside for travel expenses, and start training myself and my bird dogs. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a dog trainer or personal trainer. My dogs aren’t perfect, and I am not either. Still, I can assure you that our physical fitness is never the limiting factor during an outing.
By the time I have completed the listed tasks, it is usually close to the middle of the summer and only a few months remain until bird hunting season opens once again. During this time, I make any last-minute adjustments to the “big trip” and begin identifying candidates on the calendar, cells void of responsibility, for shorter hunting jaunts. I typically have concrete plans for 4-5 shorter trips to various parts of the country before September rolls around.
And just like that, a supposed 6-month obsession transforms into a year-round endeavor, keeping me busy and giving a sense of fulfillment. One that ensures I am never short on new experiences and timeless memories. One that allows pushes me to remote places of unmatched beauty. And most importantly, where I may witness and share my pointing dog’s passion for upland bird hunting. Without a doubt, a worthy pursuit that, when carried out properly, can provide year-round, life-long bliss.