Gearing up and planning for early season upland bird hunting
Autumn is in the air. I can smell it in the mornings and have even started to see it in the leaves along Lake Superior. I know it’s only August, but the uplands begin opening to wingshooters on September 1st in Montana with prairie grouse and Huns. Then a slew of my favorite September destinations tumble like dominos after “Big Sky” opens. North Dakota prairie birds open on September 10th and South Dakota follows on the 17th. In unison with the prairies, the ruffed grouse forests of the Great Lakes open on September 15th in Michigan and are followed by Minnesota and Wisconsin on the 17th.
Be sure to sign up for Pheasants Forever’s Prairie Grouse Primer which is slated to be released in a couple weeks for a full state-by-state prairie grouse hunting prospectus. Anecdotally, I can tell you that we’re receiving excellent reports from the prairie grouse strongholds of South Dakota, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas. Likewise, our friends at Ruffed Grouse Society annually produce a hunting forecast found on their website and I’m hearing decent reports from the forests as well.
In addition to reviewing each state’s survey materials, I like to take inventory of my favorite hunting gear. The essentials include a shotgun, ammo, and bird dogs. My early season shotgun is a Franchi Renaissance over/under 20 gauge and I load it with Federal Premium’s Wing-Shock 7.5 loads featuring the Pheasants Forever logo on the box. On the bird dog front, I have a 9-year-old veteran shorthair, Trammell, who will be transitioning to the “B Squad” this season as my 2-year-old GSP, Esky, is being tapped to bring her A-game to the fields and forests.
After the shotgun and bird dog basics, I can also be categorized as a “Gear Junkie” of bird hunting apparel and equipment. Like most fellow gear junkies, I’m loyal to my tried-and-tested favorites, while eager to audition new items to my repartee each season. Following are my top gear recommendations for the early season bird hunter opening their hunting season in the field or forest this September.
You’ll note I give preferential treatment to company’s supportive of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s conservation mission. That said, I’m also a diehard bird hunter at my core. Like most readers, I am a weekend warrior in search of public land grouse, roosters, and quail. I think about bird hunting all year long, I love to eat wild game, and my dogs are members of my family. As a member of the bird hunting community, I am also a person who appreciates companies and people who see the larger picture – a profitable balance sheet tomorrow is dependent upon a commitment to conservation today. Without further adieu, here are my September suggestions.
I am extremely proud to recommend Irish Setter boots. Not only are they the single most comfortable footwear for the uplander putting on hard miles through forests and across prairies during the early season, Irish Setter is also “The Official Boot” of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. What that means to you is great boots from a company that philanthropically helps us create the habitat necessary for our conservation mission. In addition to their overarching support of Pheasants Forever, Irish Setter’s partnership also includes a donation to our Gary Clancy Build a Wildlife Area campaign.
As many readers know, I had a tragic experience a few years back during a grouse hunt in Wisconsin. My 2-year-old shorthair collided with an oak log that ruptured her carotid artery. My beloved pup died in my arms mere minutes after impact. From that point forward, my pups always wear the Sylmar vests on every grouse, pheasant or quail hunt. There are other vests out there, but Sylmar’s product sets the safety standard.
Like Irish Setter, Browning makes a donation to Pheasants Forever’s mission for every clothing item featuring the organization’s logo. The Bird n’ Lite line of upland clothing is an excellent choice for our supporters; however, the NTS Upland Shirt is hands down the single best upland clothing item Browning has ever created. It’s a lightweight, moisture-wicking shirt that’s incredibly comfortable and wonderful for early season on the prairie.
I grew up a ruffed grouse hunter in the big woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. During my teenage years, eCollars weren’t part of the bird hunting lexicon and I often worried about losing my family’s Brittany, “Tinker,” when she disappeared beyond my vision, which happens pretty quickly in the grouse woods. Nowadays, my mind is eased by the GPS and eCollar combo of the SportDOG TEK2.0 wrapped around both of my shorthairs necks. Not only does this game-changer prevent my pups from losing contact with me, the TEK 2.0 also helps me navigate the terrain and find my way back to the truck. And like the previously mentioned Browning and Irish Setter companies, SportDOG has made a financial commitment to Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, Ruffed Grouse Society and a host of other conservation causes.
Come September, I’ll read the roadside counts and study the populations maps. I suspect we’ll get some exciting news when those reports come out, but in the end, I’ll be jacked to enjoy the freedom and joy of a day spent afield no matter the prospectus. I also suspect I’m not alone in that sentiment. See you on the trail!