Now that autumn’s arrived and hunting seasons are opening everywhere, one of the first images that comes to mind, for me, is that perfect upland hunting scene: the yellow field stretches out in front of you, just slightly crisp from the melting overnight frost. Clouds composed of various shades of gray hang in scoop formations overhead. The dogs are ready, already panting heavily out of sheer anticipation. The first few birds start to trickle out of the side of the field, plumage blazing in color. It’s time to release the dogs and start the hunt. The wait is over.
As you walk into the field, a distant cackle confirms your quarry’s presence. The first bird goes up and the call goes out: “Hen!” No shot. Shotguns lowered, the party crunches forward through the sorghum. The excitement builds—who will get the first shot?
Suddenly, a flush in front—“Rooster!” A perfect shot brings him tumbling down. The dog is upon him, the retrieve is made, and your group is back after the birds. The blaze orange of the blockers at the end of the field are now in sight. Only one rooster and a couple of hens have gone up so far. But the dogs make it obvious that the birds are out front, quartering faster back and forth.
Birds begin to pile out of the field. The call over and over again is “Hen!” as the pale, speckled birds hit the sky. Tails splash sorghum plants left and right as the dogs’ pace heats up to a frenzy. With the blockers only 300 yards away, the birds must be just ahead. The cold metal of the shotgun’s receiver begins to heat up in your hand and your vest pockets, stuffed with the weight of the too-full boxes of shells, sway with each hastening step. Then it happens…the moment upland hunters dream about.
The cry of “Rooster!” pierces the air once again and shots ring out. The bird plummets downward in a spiral of tail feathers and suddenly the field explodes with flushes. Nowhere left to run, the clearing skies fill with pheasants. Five to the right, two in front, four to the left! The wily birds explode into the air, falling almost as soon as they take flight. Shots ring out over and over as a controlled chaos ensues. Bright plastic casings propel from your firearm, and your hands shake from reloading so fast.
With limits met, the hunt is over. The familiar rustle of birds in your vest speaks to a successful hunt. As the group marches back to the lodge, long black striped feathers protrude from every game bag. The dogs are thirsty, and their companions’ legs ache and burn from trekking the uneven, partially-frozen terrain. All the waiting, all the preparation and scouting, have paid off, and the reward is the perfect upland moment. Dogs and humans alike will dream of the moment until it becomes reality again.
Image courtesy Jeff Fuller/SportingDog Adventures