Wingshooting

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.

The West Highland White Terrier cast back and forth around the broomstraw and Johnson grass. It caught a whiff of scent and moved rapidly in a manner customary with all short-legged dogs. That Westie smelled a covey of quail as I do a morning plate of biscuits and gravy and he was looking for a way in. A gust of wind must have pushed the scent around for suddenly the pup found the entrance to a maize.  In an instant it zig zagged to the covey and the birds busted every which way into the air. His owner, the noted sporting artist Gordon Allen, took a crosser. The Westie is now immortalized in a line drawing and might reappear in an oil painting or in an etching.

There is no greater event for a bird hunter than this year’s Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic that took place February 16-18 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The annual convention is a large educational and entertainment attraction organized by Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, which are dedicated to the conservation of pheasants, quail and other wildlife through habitat improvements, public awareness, education and land management policies and programs.

There are hunting seasons for greater prairie chickens and sharptailed grouse in several states. However, among all the locations where both species are found, I know of only one outfitter that hunts from horseback. That outfitter is Bob Tinker of Tinker Kennels and Horsefeathers Lodge near Pierre, South Dakota. This past September I spent several days hunting on the more than 100,000 acres of private lands that Tinker has leased. He concentrates his efforts on prairie chickens and sharptails and while South Dakota is known for pheasants, he leaves them to other outfitters.

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