The next step in leaving the upland hunting community better than we found it.
An open letter from Project Upland’s Creative Director A.J. DeRosa in Issue Zero of Project Upland Magazine.
I often ponder the specific moment when I became a bird hunter. Was it when I was a young kid following behind my father with a youth model 20-gauge pump, seeing my first ruffed grouse on the ground, and being so proud as we brought it home? Or was it the first time I approached a point by my wirehaired pointing griffon and shot a wild bird rather than one pen raised for training?
Want to know the truth? There is a fundamental flaw in my initial question . . . It is not when I became a “bird hunter” but rather when I became a part of a “bird-hunting community.”
This first happened when I released the film Searching – A New England Hunting Tale. Tripp Way, regional director for the Ruffed Grouse Society in New England, made that film come to life in the community. He gave a city-grown bowhunter a chance to share how important the escape of the uplands was to even a dog-less hunter. He set in motion a hard lesson I would learn about the upland world . . . dogs.
“This realization of the staunch differences left me wanting . . . wanting a community that could be all-encompassing where ‘all legal methods’ had their places in the evolution of a bird hunter.”
To be clear, I love dogs. I have a bird dog. But this wasn’t always true. As I began to film more of the upland community, I started to understand that the issue of dogs was almost like the Cold War, east versus west, when it came to hunting with or without dogs. I would be a liar if I said that did not bother me. This realization of the staunch differences left me wanting . . . wanting a community that could be all-encompassing where “all legal methods” had their places in the evolution of a bird hunter. That influenced the birth of Project Upland, a need for a welcoming community for new, novice, and even the hardcore willing to challenge the unspoken “rules” that sometimes inhibit the future of upland hunting.
Project Upland was not supposed to be what it has become, a culture bigger and more important than just one opinion or film. How #ProjectUpland has become a statement of purpose, rather than just a brand or a one-man show, is a testament to the upland community . . . This is not A.J. DeRosa hunts the world 12 different ways, but it is 12 different people, 12 different places, stories, and moments in time.
When Project Upland became a part of the larger Northwoods Collective creative agency, that ideological statement, “These are your stories,” become even more possible. Under the sound business direction (never leave business to the creative folk) of Managing Partner Chet Hervey, we were able to expand. The first step was bringing more filmmakers to diversify the product. We wanted to celebrate all the artists of our community and give them a creative outlet of which to be proud.
From that evolution came this Project Upland magazine, an opportunity to add an even more bold medium for our community to express itself. Although it may seem like this magazine appeared out of thin air, this publication is merely another pivot in a longer vision many years in the making. Chet and I were very close to being true to our skateboarding and surfing youths and going “punk rock” on what we called our “zine.” For all our sakes, John Thames of Covey Rise intervened just in time.
Although Covey Rise has represented a refined and beautiful rendition of a higher upland culture, John has been one of the few who believed in the authenticity of DIY-ers, novice bird-dog handlers, hardcore uplanders, and millennial industry professionals. Saying that I’m happy with this collaboration would be an understatement.
Before the first time we met with John in Las Vegas during the SHOT Show, I had spent many days with someone who also has become a hugely important part of the brand, Matt Soberg. Sure, I could tell you how he is an award-winning journalist, amazing editor, and all those other key components that makes him qualified in the technical sense. But getting to know someone in grouse camps where inside jokes are born, with lots of windshield time, or hunting in pouring rain because “we only have two hours to hunt ourselves,” are times when you really know what someone believes. We needed someone who wanted to push the bar higher, break molds, and divert from the industry norms but still be reputable and maintain the highest quality of written content. Matt Soberg, as Chet will tell you, was accordingly the only guy who fit the bill.
We have brought all this together for one collaborative vision, to leave the upland community better than we found it, more accepting, stronger at painting a true story outward to nonhunters, and more accessible to the masses.
As I write this, I cannot help but reflect on the past 24 hours, when I found myself in Idaho with a single-shot, youth-model 20-gauge behind a young puppy trying to shoot my first California quail with Chet. There is a learning curve to both remembering to cock the hammer on the gun at a bird’s flush and a young dog’s first hunt. It reminds me of my favorite quote from Teddy Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
My California quail represents a “first” . . . a place on a path where some of us have been, some will go, and some will dream to be. This is the fundamental core of how all upland culture should be remembered and celebrated. We should be proud of wherever we are, whatever we have on the path of the uplands, and not let the opinions of others taint the beauty of these unforgettable experiences.
What I remember most of my first California quail hunt was not a successful kill but rather an amazing moment in a miss. Nothing can quite prepare someone for the chorus of rising wings and the inevitable covey panic that follows. Missing can be just as special as hitting. This experience serves as a reminder of how diverse our individual experiences are, the temporary block of all logic being caught in the mesmerizing rise of birds. It’s a thing of beauty that needs our attention and curation.
So here is Project Upland magazine, a big step for us to give this brand more purpose and a clearer vision for our community . . . to expose the uplands to the world . . . to capture defining moments . . . to push our passion and culture forward . . . to bring our community closer . . . to make us feel.
These are your stories . . .
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Last modified: June 26, 2019