The feature cover story “Carolina Treasures” from the Fall 2022 issue of Project Upland Magazine comes to life in film.
Bird hunters can be classified in two ways: those who grew up hunting and those who did not. It’s a simple yet important distinction. It is often the first topic of discussion when you meet a fellow bird-dog enthusiast. Asking someone about how they got into hunting also means, “How long have you been doing this?”
Over the last three years, I have been blessed with the opportunity to film the stories of many seasoned upland hunters. The hearts of these hunters are similar; they have a passion for the birds, the habitat, and the dogs. However, there are differences among their motivations as well.
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When we head out to film, some want me to capture their dog working. Others yearn to connect with a bird so I can memorialize that moment of elegant movement and beauty. Finally, there are those who are excited for me to shoot behind their dogs or to drop my young English Setter Torfinn for a chance at some contacts of his own.
Last winter, I had the pleasure of filming with Stephen Faust. He personified all three of the motivations I previously mentioned. We met early on a crisp January morning at a gas station in central North Carolina. As we chased migrating woodcock with his handsome and smart Gordon Setters leading the way through the pine needle carpets of North Carolinian forests, I asked the standard question, “How did you get into this?”
“This is what I’ve always done,” was his short answer. Stephen isn’t one to explain everything all at once. He answered my question in bits and pieces throughout the next two days. His more nuanced responses were long, meandering strings of stories from his days hunting bobwhite quail and woodcock with his father behind setters and pointers. He told me of his habit of setting clear goals and pushing himself to complete them. While hunting birds and capturing amazing footage, I set my own goal to learn as much as I could from this master hunter.
His more nuanced responses were long, meandering strings of stories from his days hunting quail and woodcock with his father behind setters and pointers.Carolina Treasures – Fall 2022 Issue of Project Upland Magazine
When Stephen was young, he had three things he wanted to accomplish in his professional life. He wanted to race bikes, to be a professional chef, and to guide bird hunting. I could see the pride in his eyes when he mentioned that he had accomplished all three. I asked him what was next. He replied, “to continue to better myself and become the best guide that I can be.”
To Stephen, perfecting his line of Gordon Setters is part of becoming an extraordinary guide. As a young adult, Stephen read the short story “The Woodcock Gun” by Gene Hill. In this tale, the main character is described as shooting woodcock with an old hammer gun and big-headed Gordon Setter. Being a lover of old-fashioned lore and lifestyle, Stephen desired to hunt over the same regal breed. Soon after, he had his first Gordon, Toby. From there, he meticulously found traits and characteristics in Gordons from around the world to breed into his stock. Most recently, he brought in two imported dogs, Arlo and Hazel, from Slovakia. His love for his dogs and this pointing dog breed can not be overstated. He intimately knows the way they work: slow, cautious, meticulous. I watched in amazement as they crisscrossed the terrain, bounding 30-40 yards in front of us, and then belly crawling, sniffing every leaf and twig for a whiff of their quarry.
Being from the Northeast, I have a strong connection with woodcock. Walking up to a point and not knowing whether Torfinn has found a ruffed grouse or woodcock on the other end of his nose is a great feeling. I’m never disappointed to see that little russet rocket blasting out through the leafy cover with nothing but a friendly whistle left behind, even when I am targeting grouse. For Stephen, the woodcock is his preferred target. He quoted an old uplander by saying, “the sportsmanship of the hunter is inversely related to the size of their quarry.
I did not grow up hunting. As an adult onset hunter, those who have are a goldmine for me; they’re a wealth of knowledge and inspiration. As Stephen and I came to the close of each day, I was able to run my own setter with a couple of his black-and-tan cousins. As the dogs searched, I hunted for as much treasure as I could in my short time with this highly skilled uplander. I left the North Carolina woodlands with renewed vigor to train Torfinn with tools and tips that would help him to become a magnificent wild bird dog.
Young hunters like me need experiences like this. It doesn’t need to be a long term mentorship; just a day in the woods with a seasoned hunter can make a difference. I anxiously anticipate when I’ll be in Stephen’s green Gumleaf boots, a handful of well trained dogs and a hungry young hunter by my side. I’ll pass on my own stories and techniques, shaped by my times with master uplanders who shared such treasures with me.
Kevin is the lead filmmaker at Project Upland. He is obsessed with Ruffed Grouse, Trout, and Filming and Photographing the pursuit of both. Telling meaningful stories about people and their passions is what drives Kevin in his filmmaking career. Hailing from Pennsylvania, Kevin and his young English Setter "Torfinn" can be found in the woods all year round enjoying creation and any adventure they stumble upon.