Upland bird hunting is where we cut our teeth.

When considering upland game and upland bird hunting, we tend to forget that most of us got our start in the pursuit by chasing these wily birds, ones that would outsmart us as easily as saying it.

We were defeated by more ruffed grouse, bobwhite quail, and ringneck pheasants by the time we reached maturity, that it was deemed a normal part of growing up.

Bird hunting–particularly pheasant hunting–was as ingrained in us as was walking to school or brushing our teeth. Once upland game hunting season began to approach, our eyes and our ears turned to our hunting elders in the endeavor to ascertain their location, and discover what it took to fill a game bag.

Open fields and gun dogs filled our dreams. Public land or private lands didn’t matter to us as long as there were birds to be had. Heavy cover was meaningless to those of us in pursuit of a game bird, as long as we could find one. From forest grouse to mountain quail, and even woodcock, it didn’t matter as long as the bird dogs were running.

upland bird hunting
Craig Raleigh

When I began to train my first gun dog way back in 1998, I could never have imagined how much of a lifestyle change for the better it would be, or as the venerable writer Robert Ruark once said, “Never knew a man not to be improved by a dog.”

I’ve never had the honor of chasing a chukar in the wild, but one of the best gifts that I ever received was that of a chukar partridge for use in my dog’s training. Over and over we would play hide-and-seek with this bird. It had the effect of giving a growing gun dog experience, and that of giving the hunter appreciation for the game he chases.

Once you’ve spent time raising the birds that you intend on pursuing, you’ll have a much greater idea of the value that they truly hold.

When I was a very small child, my grandfather–as I wrote in my book “The Hunter’s Way“–brought home a brace of prairie chickens for the dinner table. As he sat to enjoy the hard-earned bird I thought he would be glad to share this bounty with me, but I found out right away that’s not what was going to happen.

A prairie chicken, you see, is a wild game bird that was common to the Sandhills of Nebraska at that time. It was not a prize to be taken lightly.

First, I would have had to help with the chores, which as a 6-year-old wasn’t really in my wheelhouse. He made me understand back then that I would be welcome to it if I had helped to get it, or in some fashion had earned it.

Upland bird hunting is like that. It is at the root of what we are as hunters: land management specialists, and game species aficionados. It all started when we picked up that first scattergun and blistered a tree in the backyard. Before we ever became hunters in North America, we were baptized at the alter of game bird hunting. And we haven’t even mentioned the wild turkey…

From California, to Idaho, to South Dakota and beyond, hunting upland game is the pride and joy of hunting season for so many in the hunting community, and the reason why upland hunters should never be discounted.

For so many of us, it is the reason that we started hunting in the first place.

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