The Best Upland Hunting Advice I Could Give
If at first you don't succeed, try, try and try again. A statement that could be applied to anything in life, and upland hunting is definitely no exception. It's quite possibly the best advice I could give to those looking to get a leg up on the feathered creatures we pursue.
I could sit here and write some BS about hunting edges, how to run your dog or specific food sources you should be targeting when upland hunting and try to act like I know what I'm talking about. The truth is there's only one thing I know that will truly lead you to success as an uplander, and that's never giving up. (Plus there's hundreds of articles scattered across the web about those other topics)
Feeling hopeless, unsure of what your next move should be and on the verge of giving up. I've been there before. It sucks. But success for myself has never come easy. I've failed and failed again, but I've never thrown in the towel, and I've treated upland hunting the same way as everything else I've done in life.
The large areas and ground we have to cover to find a bird can be intimidating
Flashback to August 2018. I had been training all summer running my dog, and my young Brit was doing better than I had ever expected when suddenly the wheels fell off. I was running a NSTRA amateur trial against a young shorthair. If you're unfamiliar with NSTRA (National Shoot To Retrieve) field trials, you run a dual brace against another handler and his/her dog. 5 Birds are planted in a field and a 30 minute clock is started when the two dogs are released together. The dogs are followed by a judge and graded on finds, retrieves, obedience and ground coverage. Usually the dog and handler with the most finds out of the 5 birds will win the brace. Right out the gate in the first 30 seconds my dog slammed a point. Head held high, front left leg cocked back and a staunch tail - A sight that will get your blood pumping. My brace mates young shorthair had limited bird contact and was trying to figure out what was going on, circling my dog while on point. This exposed a crack and flaw in my training, my dog was un prepared for this situation. He ended up breaking point and reaching in and grabbing the bird from the pressure of the other dog (YIKES). From that point on he would establish point and then break point, grabbing the bird. Something that reverses all of your training faster than you can blink. How do I fix this? Where I do I go from here? My dog has now cracked the secret code and figured out he doesn't need to wait for me to flush the bird and shoot. He can simply just run in and grab it. I was heart broken. All the hard work and hours spent with my dog was now seemingly useless. I could have thrown in the towel and given up on my dog, but that was never an option. I pushed forward, re evaluated my training methods and can now fully trust my dog again to establish point and hold point regardless of the pressure put on him because I never gave up.
Yeti & I Running in a NSTRA Amateur Trial on a hot, humid afternoon in August 2018
October 20, 2018, the start of Michigan's wild pheasant season. If you're familiar with the pheasant hunting scene in Michigan you already know how tough it is to find a wild bird in this state. It's a needle in a haystack, but there are pockets of birds and they do exist (probably in better populations than most would expect). A friend and I ran our dogs on Saturday the opener with no luck. Besides a few hens and one rooster missed by a friend of mine. The following day on Sunday the 21st I headed back out again. Just my dog and I trying to cross paths with a wily rooster this time. Hours later we still hadn't bagged a bird. My dog busted a few roosters, and I actually saw another hunter bag a bird that my dog had busted and bumped into the field he was working. That was a tough one to watch unfold. That was supposed to be me. Nonetheless I was happy for the other hunter as he shouted with joy as his dog retrieved his bird. We ran a few more fields after that with no other bird sightings. It was getting late in the afternoon at this point. My legs were tired from a full weekend of busting through cover and I could hear the couch and a cold beverage starting to call my name back at home. We pulled into another parking spot staring out into a giant field. I wondered what in the hell the chances were of my one young dog crossing the scent of a rooster in this giant field. My mindset at the time was thinking slim to none. The thought of calling it a day and heading home weighed heavy on my mind. But we were here, and what was one more field, one more try? We reached the back corner of the field with no bird contact. I made the turn to head back to the truck when suddenly Yeti's bell went silent. I sat there for close to a minute waiting to hear his bell start jingling again, but it didn't. At this point I really didn't believe my dog was on point, but I started walking to his location. Suddenly, thundering wings exploded into the sky. I shouldered my gun and chucked off two shells. I let out an echoing shout of excitement that the whole county probably heard as I watched a rooster drop from the sky, my dog bounding over to grab its flopping body. I could have called it quits after no luck on Saturday. I could have grabbed my dog, threw him in the truck and drove home after we watched another hunter bag the previous bird. I could have easily let my mind get the best of me, put the truck in reverse and headed for the couch before entering this last field. But here I was, smiling ear to ear and my dog running back to me with a rooster in his mouth. What a sight. One I'll never forget.
Maybe you're a first time upland hunter who's wondering what they can do to increase their success rate. Or maybe you're a veteran hunter on day 4 of a 7 day out of state trip to a new location. The chips aren't falling your way and the hunting isn't going as you expected so you're considering packing up and heading home. The answer is simple. It's not hunting new cover, it's not getting a new dog and it definitely can't be found on the couch at home. The answer is never give up. Hunt that next field, put your boots on the ground and get to work. Its cliche, but true - Success isn't given, it's earned. Especially in the uplands.
About the Author: Cliff Enzor
Resident of the mitten shaped state of Michigan, founder of Uplander and outdoor enthusiast. Supporter of public lands, conservation efforts and the growth of hunting. When not chasing the flush with his Brittany, Yeti, Cliff can be found kayaking public waters with his wife, sitting in a treestand with a bow in hand or wetting a line with friends. Enzor has spent his entire career in the outdoor industry working as an outdoor television producer, photographer, graphic designer and marketing manager.
Follow Cliff on Instagram @fulldrawcliff