BoosterShots by Dr. LateBloomer
Ladies Upland Hunt, Western MD & PA
If you remember this post from last January, you know that I've gotten a bug this year to attempt bird hunting. I even bid on, and won my Benelli ETHOS at the Women's Outdoor and Shooting Industry Dinner at the 2015 SHOT Show, with this goal in mind. I started shooting sporting clays this year, with this goal in mind as well. But I still didn't have a lot of hope for actual bird hunting. When one has no land, no dog, and no skills, one's options are limited.
Nonetheless, my opportunity to take the next step did present itself -- in the form of a Facebook post, which announced that there were still slots available for a September Ladies Upland Hunt by Calibered Events . The hunt was for women only, and was to take place on the grounds of an outfitter, who would provide guides and pointers. BINGO! This was exactly what I had been looking for! And it was practically in my back yard -- no airfare needed! After first making sure that this event would be suitable for novices, I signed up.
I was the last woman to arrive at the gorgeous rental vacation home on Friday evening. There were seven of us, plus our Calibered Events host, Ann Marie Foster. I was a little nervous meeting new people, but soon realized that I was in the midst of an excellent company of like-minded women. All had firearms experience, and some had hunting experience - including veterans of the same event last year - but I wasn't the only novice. Whew!
My room had a bit of a view. This was not your grandfather's hunting cabin.
When a group of women get together, there is usually wine and food involved, and this event was no exception. But when women HUNTERS get together, it ups the ante. Besides the requisite homemade dip and salsa, there was Sweet Lebanon-style deer bologna, and grilled dove breast rumaki. The ice was broken, and I was hooked before I even got started! :-)
Saturday hunt morning dawned dark and cloudy. We had a panoramic view over the lake from our mountaintop digs, as we ate our breakfast quiche. (Yes, we had quiche - Ann Marie took good care of us) But the view wasn't encouraging. The sun peeked up over the mountains, and then promptly disappeared into rain. But as the saying goes, "There is no bad weather, only bad gear". We had come prepared, so we loaded up and headed to On-Point Outfitters to start the day's adventure.
Our breakfast view
It quickly became apparent that this was going to be a completely different shooting experience for me. Shooting matches on a formal range, involve only one person loaded and firing at a time. In upland hunting, everyone in your party is loaded and ready, and walking abreast of you in fairly close proximity. There's a fair amount of trust involved with that. I give the guides a lot of credit in that department, as they do this with complete strangers all the time. That's probably why we were invited to shoot a round of 5-stand first. It helped us get warmed-up, but I think it also helped the guides get a feel for our gun-handling and safety, before we went out.
Warming up with 5-stand
After the warm-up at 5-stand, we were ready to head out and hunt. We broke up into two groups - one of four shooters, and one of three shooters. Ann Marie, our host, had to limit herself to camera duty, due to recent surgery, but that meant that she got some fantastic photos to record the event.
I was in the group of three - with Deb and Margaret. Our guide was Brett, who brought his English pointers Daisy and Mitch. Mitch was the younger, greener dog, at 2 years old, and he was wearing a bell. Daisy, was the old hand, and she was wearing an electronic beeping collar. Daisy was seven, and reportedly starting to feel her age a little. I felt her pain, and thought that it was kind of fitting for Daisy to introduce me to upland hunting at age 52 :-)
Our guide Brett, working Daisy (or was it vice versa?)
By the time we set out into the fields, the rain had settled down into a light drizzle/mist. The temperature was still up though, so I was comfortable in just my base layer top and my father's upland vest, which I wore in his honor. The dogs were quite literally vibrating with anticipation. My heart was doing an identical dance - just internally.
We were hunting released pheasants and chukars. Sometimes the chukars ran, instead of flying, and sometimes they just hunkered down and seemed to hold their breath (or maybe that was me holding my breath). The pheasants ran some too, judging by the way the dogs pointed, and then moved a bit and pointed again. But the pheasants didn't seem as inclined to use their feet as the chukars did.
It was fascinating to watch the dogs work. It was "work", but they sure seemed to be having fun. The way they bounded through the fields and over the grass hummocks, it was a wonder they could smell anything - but they clearly did. When they froze into the pointing posture, it got REALLY exciting. Mitch, the younger dog, had to be "whoa'd" a few times - he was so eager.
The flush was exciting and explosive. The birds just burst violently out from their hiding places and you didn't know which direction they would fly. The chukars almost seemed to hover in front of you for a second or so - too close to shoot - before they chose a direction with which to leave - expeditiously.
The pheasant "profile" as they flew was so familiar from the photos and paintings I've seen over the years, (and also from the mounts my dad had when I was a child), that it was a real "connection" to finally see it in person. And then to see that silhouette over the bead of my gun ... it was thrilling and amazing. I still have a picture in my head of one pheasant who got away. After he made his successful escape over our heads and behind, he spread his wings further, and just "glided" - it was very cool. He also wasn't the only one who got away. There was one I had a perfect bead on - but I had forgotten to push my safety off. I squeezed the trigger ... and nothing happened (insert dirty words) LOL! I also had several misses, as did the gals with me. But it was all a learning experience, and a fascinating one at that.
Not only did Daisy and Mitch find and point the birds, they also retrieved them for us. In fact, in this photo of my first bird ever, Daisy still has a mouthful of feathers. She was a good girl, and clearly enjoyed her job!
My first bird (Photos courtesy of Ann Marie Foster)
After a couple hours of field walking amongst the grasses and sorghum, we had a break for lunch back at the kennel building, and the dogs got a rest as well. I picked Brett's brain about dogs and behaviors and training, and it revived all kinds of memories from my childhood. After filling up on sloppy joes and chicken soup and brownies, we headed back out for another couple hours.
In the end, everyone in our party bagged something. I was really glad that no one went home empty-handed. Though I had arrived fully-prepared to be that person, and just have an inspiring experience, I actually brought home two pheasants and a chukar. I had a bit of a "moment" with my first bird. I had to take a minute to talk to the man whose vest I was wearing, and ask if he had seen me take that bird after all these years. I think he did, and I'm thrilled.
On-Point cleaned the birds for us, and saved the tail feathers. I asked if I could watch though. I wanted to see the process from beginning to end. It was interesting, and it didn't bother me at all - I had watched my dad clean birds in the basement when I was a kid, and I have vague memories of helping the neighbors chop the heads off chickens when I was seven or eight. Meat comes from animals - that's the way life works - and I wanted to enjoy the entire process from Field to Fork.
On our drive back to the vacation house, we stopped at a local gift shop. Why not, right? There we were, all eight of us, trooping into the tourist enclave gift shop, dressed in our field boots, wet brush pants, camo, and orange hats. We browsed amongst the prints, and ceramics, sampled dip mixes and drew some interested looks. We couldn't have appeared more incongruous if we tried. But that is the cool thing I am discovering about women hunters - we are all about incongruity. You don't have to surrender your femininity to hunt. It's not an either/or proposition, and I LOVED that.
I owe a huge thank you to Ann Marie Foster of Calibered Events, for setting up this memorable event, and another giant thank you to On-Point Outfitters for providing a wonderful first experience. Huge hugs and thank yous go, of course, to Deb, Margaret, Christy, Kate, Audrey and Lori. I couldn't have asked for a more fun and supportive group of women with whom to do this.
This was a life-changing experience, and I will be back.
I'm a Wingshooter!