The importance of Upland Preserves in our hunting community.
With an avid outdoorsman for a father and a brother ten years my elder, I hunted a lot at a very early age. I have more childhood memories of me hunting, or going to our cabin, than I do hanging out with friends or playing sports. If I wanted to spend time with my dad and brother, I knew that it probably meant hunting or fishing. Of all we did, I remember upland hunting the most. I don’t know if it’s because we did it the most, or because it was my favorite thing to do with my family. Probably both.
The small community I grew up in was loaded with upland game. It abounded in ruffed grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, woodcock, and Hungarian partridge. We hunted around home a lot. Most of the time, we targeted ruffed grouse in the thickets and big timber with springer spaniels or worked old logging roads. We also spent a lot of time visiting relatives in farm country six hours away, which was loaded with pheasants. There were a few hunts we considered annual traditions. We’d hunt pheasants over Thanksgiving and over Christmas we’d hunt ruffed grouse one last time.
At a certain point, life comes calling. College, marriage, relocating, kids, work, farming, volunteering, etc…People drift apart. Not because they want to—because they have no choice. When everyone ends up in different places with different sets of priorities, the traditions become harder and harder to uphold. In fact, our Christmas grouse hunt no longer exists…
Schedules are tough to line up, but during certain magical times each year, everyone’s relatively free. Ah, the holidays. Everyone still gets together for Thanksgiving, but we rarely get together in farm country anymore. There are too many youngsters with obligations for it to work. Yet with a simple call to a local upland preserve, we can still enjoy our family tradition of hunting pheasants over Thanksgiving. Despite the fact that we’re hours from good pheasant country.
We recently gathered at a pheasant farm, where I shared the field with my wife and father. We watched my dog work without the pressure of trying to bust through thick cover or cattails. There was no need to spread out as much either, which allowed us to spend time chatting and catching up. Laughing, smiling, joking around; atypical things on a hardcore public land pheasant hunt.
Upland Preserves: the Advantages and Disadvantages
I have several great things to say about planted birds in a controlled field. One is the ability to keep a long-standing tradition alive with my dad that probably would’ve gone to the wayside had we not had access to upland preserves.
Sure, planted birds aren’t the most challenging—and you’re not going to push your body to the limit walking on semi-sparse cover or mowed trails. You are, however, going to give your dog some work that he/she may not have had the chance at without the game farm nearby. I want my dog to recall the scent of a rooster with ease. It’s much easier than putting his pads on the ground in pheasant country every three years, expecting him to be dialed in.
Upland preserves are perfect for off-season training as well. We like to get a few birds planted to touch up on dog-work during the off-season. That way, the dog doesn’t forget what he’s made to do and we don’t have to educate relaxed wild birds. They also provide much needed exercise for the hunters. There’s nothing worse than using muscles you haven’t used in nine months when opening day rolls around.
Another great aspect of upland preserves are the controlled environments. Designated fields allow new or young hunters to learn about the sport without having to worry about property boundaries or other hunters. Upland preserves are the perfect place to mentor someone, especially if you factor in that most game farms have clay pigeon ranges. Some even have sporting clays courses. It’s a one-stop-shop for learning about guns, safety, hunting with dogs, proper field etiquette, and the act of hunting. They also offer something that’s enticing to new hunters: instant gratification. You’re never going to go to a game farm and not flush a bird.
While game farms can make hunting easy, they can also make it easy for people to become complacent and lose sight of the hunting heritage. I have a couple of friends who have come to rely on a few hunts at a pheasant farm every year to scratch their upland itch. These are friends who once accompanied me in the grouse woods, getting slapped in the face with branches and complaining about sore legs after a long day afield. I miss those hunts with old friends.
Balance is Key
I look at upland preserves much like I look at holidays. Holidays only come around a couple of times a year and allow us to spoil ourselves and others. Game farms are much the same. They should be a treat, an opportunity to spoil yourself and others. Including your bird dog.
I am, and always will be, a wild bird man first. There’s nothing like turning loose on a new cover, having my dog find a bird, and snapping my double barrel up in line with a wild bird. A bird that may or may not have ever seen a human. However, I rarely get to do that with my family. So, for the sake of traditions, there will always be upland preserves.
Matt Breuer has been working in the outdoor industry for over 15 years, guiding, writing, promoting, volunteering, and working with several conservation groups. He’s on the Board of Directors of the MN Sharp-tailed Grouse Society, and is a recruitment and retention coordinator with RGS. He owns and operates Northcountry Guide Service & Promotions in northern MN. Link up with Matt by visiting www.northcountryguides.com .