Flushing Coveys of Ignorance Part Three: Hunter Responsibilities and Etiquette
In part one of this series I discussed Understanding Upland Preserves and Etiquette. Part two dealt with An Upland Guide’s Responsibilities. If you haven’t read those articles, I encourage you to find them and brush up. Today is all about obligations and restraints, as they pertain to you, in this gentleman’s sport we call wingshooting. As with any endeavor, we can simply partake in ignorance or aspire to become a better sportsman and hunting companion. Since we always have that choice, my suggestions follow.
Become a student of the game. Read up on the sport and become knowledgeable for your own benefit. Watch some online videos to get a visual about your event coming up, then rehearse it in your mind. I do this for every hunt on every specie I pursue, and I am more successful for it. Quail, grouse, pheasant all flush differently. Practice shooting clays with a thrower before your outing and familiarize yourself with loading and unloading your weapons. Too many folks take liberties with shotguns because they’re self-professing, big-game marksmen. And then someone loses a leg or a life.
Look the part. Our society loves nostalgia. We ogle and admire those vintage photos, when folks dressed in class for about any social outing. Upland hunting is a gentleman’s sport; don’t show up in deer hunting camo. I’m always amazed at the difference a woven-plaid shirt makes underneath a waxed cotton vest. Try some brush pants over jeans. Orvis, LL Bean, Purdey, and Kevin’s Catalog are just examples of companies offering handsome choices. Remember, sneers stem from jealousy, and no one ever had to apologize for looking classy. My mother taught me that, and we grew up poor.
Be early and be ready. Five minutes early is an hour late. Everyone loathes the self-centered guy who can’t honor his friends’ time, or the guide’s. Check with the outfitter about state or local laws, but plan on bringing the following items: One article of orange clothing (hat, vest, jacket), shooting glasses, ear protection, comfortable boots, hunting license (where state required), your own break-action or semi-auto shotgun (12, 20, 28 gauges only, unless renting), shells (#5, #6, #7.5, unless purchasing there), your dog and electronic collar (unless guided), a cooler for breasted birds, camera for photos, credit card and money for tips and game prep.
Let your guide lead. It will take the pressure off your hunt and make it more enjoyable. What he says stands, and never yell at his dog or tell it what to do. Ole’ Smoky was trained to respond to one voice only and he’s doing his best to please everyone there. After all, that dog was bred for this.
Communicate with your partners. Agree to walk in a horizontal line with every man accounted for. A straight push better ensures clean coverage of your parcel. Discuss shooting zones with partners and never shoot towards them. When in doubt, pass on the shot. If the shot is best taken by someone else in your party, use hand signals to convey it’s theirs before talking a bunch. Too much noise spook hunkered down birds and they run.
Don’t rush your shot. When your dogs are on point, your guide should position himself between you and your partner, reflecting best scenarios as he kicks up the birds. Keep your barrel facing the sky, stock in front of your belly and ready. Breathe and exhale. Push the safety off. A good guide is listening for that “click.”
On the flush, slide the gun butt up to your shoulder and cheek and take aim. Focusing on only one bird, you want to lead your target by swinging your barrel in front of it and aiming for the head. It’s likely you’ll hit the body. Keep your cheek to the stock and eyes looking down the barrel for the follow-up shot; don’t pull your head. When a bird rockets direct sideways or slightly behind, pivot your feet and hips like a point guard in basketball to better make the shot.
On a larger covey flush, the excitement can be overwhelming. Pick one bird and stay with it till it is down. Then proceed. Wounding wildfowl due to poor judgement needs immediate correction. You owe those birds clean, ethical shots.
Never, ever, do this. Want to end the hunt immediately? Take a low leveling shot that wounds or puts a guide’s high-end gun dog at risk. At that point he won’t even care about your buddies’ safety. Wait till that bird clears cover and allow for a dog’s leaping flush before letting loose on a $20 bird. Besides, shooting game on the ground is considered very unsportsmanlike.
If your guide ever ducks and requests you shoot over him, don’t. After four birds got away, I finally had to scold a guide that stood in front of me insisting I do this. The same guy that doesn’t value his life is the same guy and family that sues you later. Practice restraint.
And speaking of never, you are a selfish person if you enter a field liquored up. That guide and your friends are moms and dads, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers of other humans that love and need them. “Keep the flask until the last,” as they say. Celebrations involving a toast should end the day, not start it.
Don’t be that guy. A 50% deposit is the norm to hold your reservation with the balance due day of. Cancelation fees are both standard and necessary when hunters ‘no-show’ a preserve, leaving a gap in the schedule and loss of income. No one works for free. Be prepared to tip your guide 20% or close to it. Same for your chef or waitress staff. On the rare occasion I did not, those folks already knew their performance was sub-par without a word spoken.
Read the fine print. Some nicer resort lodges or plantations require slippers or socks in the house. No muddy boots or bare feet, in keeping with gentlemen expectations. Throw a pair in your luggage. And of course, you love your dog so for a nominal fee, roughly $25 a night, you can board your partner in their kennels, never the lodge.
In that vein, many, not all outfits, welcome clients bringing their own dogs along. Make sure your companions are in good shape and accustomed to the hunting conditions at hand, be it heat or cold, mountains or soggy bottoms. Pups desperately need field time, but don’t ruin the hunt for other paying customers if he’s terribly mannered.
Attitude is everything for a fun day. Never claim all the birds shot down. If you outshoot your friends, share some of the harvest. Laugh and joke. We’re not guaranteed tomorrow so take photos of your buddies; those memories will last a lifetime.
If penning this series even clarified one point of understanding or contention for you then I am satisfied. We are in this great and beloved brotherhood together and it is a pastime to be cherished and protected. That starts and ends with us. Let’s be good to one another, and let’s get others into the fields.