Sep 10th

The Alaska Standoff

By Ultimate Upland Lodge

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Alaska
 and I are at odds. I’m here to take her birds. She’s not giving them up easily. I’m to earn them one vertical foot at a time until she has determined that sufficient  toll has been collected.

She’s happy to show amazing places, jaw-dropping beauty, an abundance of nature viewing unrivaled anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere. But she knows I’m here for her upland game. Though I can be transfixed by her figure, by the expanse, the birds are always in the back of my mind. And she knows this.

She keeps them just out of reach. Always around the next bend or over the next ridge. They are there. I’ve seen them, even had a fleeting shot. She keeps them 1,000 feet above me, taunts me with risk. Bring your tired legs, bring your tired dogs, push yourself too far and she’ll keep you here on her peaks. You can become a permanent fixture, another notch, a story of epic failure to ward off other suitors.

I’ve heard other places we’ve hunted, but never this clearly. I talk to her. I curse her. Then I apologize. Her beauty should be enough. For so many others it is. But the damn birds are here.

I’ve seen the tales of grouse so plentiful and stupefied that a rock and a moderate throwing arm will fill a skillet. I’ve talked to locals who have snow machined by chance into flocks hundreds thick in areas where 50 bird limits are possible. But they are Alaskan and she knows this.

So it is a standoff. I will keep talking to her. She will continue flashing eye candy. I will keep hiking uphill with shotgun and hounds, and she will decide if I’m worthy. It’s out of my hands. I can’t stop wanting her birds.

Checkout a full gallery of images on the news site, click here.  

Aug 29th

Ultimate Upland to Start 2012 Season with Epic Hunt

By Ultimate Upland Lodge
Months of planning and preparation all led up to our departure from the Carolina low country this morning. I've pegged the steering wheel west and will be racing the 2,200 miles to reach Nevada where Ultimate Upland will officially kick off the 2012 bird season. It's times like this that I wish we owned a teleporter.

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The drive affords lots of time to contemplate the upcoming weeks. It also allows the doubt to creep in:  Have we put in enough training? Do we have all the gear we'll need? Will we be able to find the birds?

Wyatt, my four year old lab, and I are headed to the Ruby Mountains in northeast Nevada in pursuit of Himalayan Snowcock. It is the only place in the country that you can find these birds transplanted in the 60's by the Nevada Department of Wildlife. The hunt is fabled to be the most difficult in the lower 48 because of this bird's fondness for altitudes above 10,000 feet. Though I've been cardio training seven days a week for the last two months, there is likely no amount of training to fully prepare for the grueling climbs that are on the horizon.

The plan is to take a few days to acclimate to the altitude while hunting Blue Grouse. Then hike to a location I've identified with potential, setup spike camp and hunt until we bring one of these birds to hand. We'll see how long it takes to get 50 pounds of gear up the 4,000 vertical feet.

I'm excited. And a bit nervous.

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A brief stop to get some inspiration...... for Wyatt.

I've been fortunate to have the advice and council of a few other Ultimate Uplanders with experience in this area and game. And if communications allow I'll be reporting progress from the mountain tops and bringing you all along on the hunt.

Stay tuned for the updates. I've taken a nine hour bite out of the 36 hour drive. Wish I was already there.

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Nov 15th

Making Kansas Memories

By Ultimate Upland Lodge
Opening day in Kansas occupies a sacred  place for me since this is the territory  where my upland obsession really took hold years ago. The bulk of the state has a dismal bird forecast like much of the rest of the Midwest this year. There are some bright spots which have been deemed the north central and northwest portions of the state.

My dad has joined this leg of the hunt which centers around a small town where the residents and the public hunting grounds have become familiar friends. For the last five years this has been where dad and I reunite and share the love of the outdoors and hunting which he sparked in me as a youngster.  I have hunted in this part of the state for over 15 years either solo and with other hunting buddies.

We are in the north central part of the state and contrary to the predictions, pheasant numbers are low this year. So hunters chasing forecasts who selected this area will likely be sorely disappointed.

The locals have been convinced that pheasant numbers are down due to the  thriving coon population. Last year the pheasant numbers were low due to the "damn redtail hawks" if you buy the area gossip. But if you ask a few questions of  local farmers a much more likely scenario becomes obvious. There was an extremely wet Spring . The rains started the beginning of May and according to most National Weather Service reporting stations in the area they received nine or more inches of precipitation for the month.  So declare war on raccoons if you must, but the truth is the nests were flooded, abandoned or just generally soaked. 

A bright spot is that the Bobwhite have made a small comeback from previous years. Why did quail nests not get sogged? I believe they choose to lay in areas less susceptible to the rain, under trees and in better shelter.

So the bulk of the Roosters in the area are the educated two-year olds.  Hunting has been challenging but we've seen our share of birds. Our black lab Wyatt continues to work really well and give us opportunities, albeit less frequent than years past.

The cooler won't be full when we leave the state, but the memory bank certainly will be:  we've gotten an assist from hawk, dad has gone ass over elbows in a hole with his untested knee replacement, he had safety "issues" and missed a gimme rooster at 10 yards,  we located and patterned a big new covey of Prairie Chicken, more safety fumbling when he stumbled into a covey of quail, nearly crapped his pants when stepping on a hen this morning,   AND there still are six days left to hunt.

It's gonna be a great week and no amount of coons or rain can change that.

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Oct 6th

Perched for Greatness

By Duracell
Well, here I sit a the computer with visions of Chukar running terrified from my rock solid Vizsla who is locked like a deep copper statue, inviting me toward the direction of wingshooting nirvanna.

    We are only 2 days from Chukar season here in Nevada and with the recent heat wave now at an abrupt, and hopefully final end, it will soon be time to set out in pursuit of lose little red legged devils. I must say that this year has been unexpectedly difficult to wait for. I have been seeing hundreds of birds, mostly new ones and the dog seems to finally be really "getting it".

    It seems like nowadays there has been so much bad news on the upland front. From sage grouse populations being down which will almost certainly result in their protected status, to poor pheasant numbers, and more and more regulations piling up, its nice to finally have some good news on the Chukar front.

    According to the NDOW, this years chukar numbers are exceptional. Five areas which they survey held record numbers of birds. When coupled with the fact that the birds are most likely more dispersed, due to widespread water sources, the numbers ought to be phenomonal. With a very long, wet, and mild spring in Nevada, the birds have had 2-3 clutches and the habitat was lush enough to support the chicks to adulthood. If the predation stayed low, we can resonably expect to see a huge number of tight holding and healthy birds.

    Anyone who hunts Chukar knows that habitat is crucial. This year looks to have the ideal circumstances for maximized bird production. The spring conditions allowed for an early green up, which provides a good transitional food source, and the temperatures remaining cool, held back many of the other food sources  from blooming thus extending the fresh food sources long into the season. Even up until just two weeks ago, there were still huge swaths of green vegetation, which is rare in Nevada after July.

    Even as  I write this the snow is steadily falling outside. A sudden coldfront has moved into the area in typical northern Nevada style. Two weeks ago we had record high temps in the low 90's (which reaked havoc on our short 30 day Dove season), but the forcasted high for opening day is 57 and clear. If the snow stays overnight it ought to leave a nice coat of the white stuff in the heights and a gently exhaling earth down below, making tracking and scenting conditions perfect. My dog needs every advantage he can get on his first hunt, and it looks like he will have every one available one this year.

    I get the strange feeling it will be tought to sleep tommorrow night, and incredibly easy to wake up. It's strange how different 4 AM feels before hunting. To anticipate the smells of fresh sage, hot coffee and to hear(hopefully) that distinct laughing out in the hills before dawn, makes the pre-dawn start feel like a priveledge.

    I am well aware that perfect conditions dont necessarily mean a perfect hunt. Somehow these birds have an uncanny nack for eluding all the right circumstances and leaving a tired, frustrated and hungry hunter. At least  the only conditions I have to worry about right now are the conditions of my lungs and my knees.



Sep 30th

Early Season North Dakota Shapes Up

By Ultimate Upland Lodge
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Many hunters familiar with the fame and media coverage lavished on bird hunting in South Dakota cast a skeptical eye to the sister state of the North. We headed there this year to evaluate the hunting prospects and see just how the Roughrider State stacks up.

Weather is always a consideration for early Fall trips. Heat is the biggest challenge when relying on the canine nose to get you into the game. One of our hopes by starting so far North this season was avoiding sweltering temps which put an early end to the hunting days. According to locals, the first snowfall of western North Dakota occurred on September 19th last year. Over the course of our two week stay we experienced a grab bag of weather: nighttime temps as low as 28 degrees, daytime highs reaching 85, no snow but torrential rains lasting over 16 hours and of course the wind which rarely stops in the West, giving us gusts to 45 mph. But the average day actually worked to a hunting plan pretty well: morning temperatures in the mid 40s, partly cloudy skies, winds 5-15 mph and afternoon highs making it to 70.

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The other main reason for selecting North Dakota as our first bird hunting stop of the year is species availability.  The state is right in the heart of Hungarian Partridge and Sharptailed Grouse range, both opening the second week of September. Also Ruffed Grouse can be found in a tiny northeast corner of the state, and of course pheasant opens a month later.

Millions of acres are available to hunt via national forest lands, state trust lands and private property enrolled in their public access program. We elected to focus mainly on the western side of the state in the Little Missouri National Grasslands which were Teddy Roosevelt's stomping grounds when he tried his hand at western ranching. We were relying on the million plus acre size of this national resource to mitigate any hunting pressure we encountered. This land is open to grazing, so one must contend with the cattle. Because of the wet Spring this year, there was still plenty of cover around regardless the bovine buffet.

To our surprise, hunting pressure was non-existent. Opening weekend which is such a melee in so many other states came and went with barely a notice. Our entire two week visit, we came across five other hunters: two at a gas station, one local working on a back road with a dog box in the truck, and two orange dots on a distant horizon. We never bumped into another individual while hunting a section. This fact alone puts North Dakota at the top of the return visit list.

The unfortunate news for North Dakota upland hunting is that a couple of severe Winters coupled with an extremely wet Spring has negatively impacted bird numbers. The one bright spot is the native Sharptails are tough little birds and accustomed to harsh winters. The Huns and Ringneck being introduced species have a bit rougher go of it.

We were never able to locate a partridge, although admittedly we were a bit west of what is considered the prime Hun territory of the state. The Sharpy though, we found again and again. And these grouse are a wonderful early season foe. The Sharptail like to have a view and most often reside on the tallest hill in sight. And nothing strengthens the early season legs and lungs on both dog and hunter than scaling hill after hill on a quest for flushing grouse.

These early season birds tend to hold for dogs, normally a staggered flush with the smartest birds waiting until guns are empty before taking to the air. Groups of seven to 12 were fairly common. After an initial flush one can often mark down the escapees and continue pursuit, which is great for seeing how young dogs work in areas where birds are known to be. If this sounds a bit genteel for your liking then just wait a month. Once these grouse get educated and shot over, they get evil. As you approach they will flush from hilltops hundreds of yards away and will fly to the next county.

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We hunted most mornings with lots of opportunity to refine rusty dog work and rusty shooting skills. And Sharptail prefer BFE so the abundance of hiking gets hunting legs back under all involved. If you need more shooting entertainment in the afternoons the dove are everywhere and jump shooting seemed viable in about every draw with scrub trees or shrubs.

North Dakota has a lot going for it. They also have an oil boom, the effects of which can already be seen. Hopefully this new economic engine doesn't cost the area it's upland oasis.

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Sep 13th

Nobody Hunts Sharptail Anymore

By Ultimate Upland Lodge

North Dakota is having a black gold rush. Oil and gas has decided that the Roughrider State is the new frontier. When I first arrived a few days ago, I rolled into a hotel well after midnight and saw a host of monster trucks and SUV with out of state tags. I was sure those were the guys that were gonna beat me to the public ground and shoot all the intellectually challenged birds, leaving only the wise and wily to outrun me.

Turns out, all those trucks are part of the migrant labor force. One local has informed me that this two-light town needs an additional 30,000 workers and "if you can defog a mirror you can make $25 an hour".  The infrastructure is being built as well, bringing about good things such as Internet and cell service – and the not so good like road crews, traffic and eyesore oil wells. 

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There are over a million acres of Little Missouri National Grassland,  all open for hunting. It is an interesting mix of flowing prairie grasses and wicked rocky outcrop. Teddy Roosevelt loved this place and attributed many of his life's triumphs to time spent hardening in these Dakota badlands. There are numerous papers and books, including an autobiography which detail his exploits in the area. I've been consuming them as evening entertainment while sipping bourbon and watching the sunsets here at camp, a short 20 miles north of his old homestead site.

Consecutive harsh Winters have had a detrimental effect on gamebird populations. But this being my first trip to the area, ignorance is truly bliss and I couldn't be happier with the surroundings. Besides, I never let forecasts dictate the success of a hunt, an easy thing to do when the process of hunting takes priority over the heft of the game bag.

In three days and hundreds of miles scouting and travel I've seen two hunters and they were little orange dots on the horizon. It is opening week. Where is everyone?

The sharptail just doesn't draw the same attention as other species. I suspect it has a lot to do with where these birds live and how they act. I arrived early this year to compare the early season hunting to the late season drubbing I experienced last year. The truth is, it seems fairly similar. Walking. And more walking. And as we found out last year, these birds like the high ground. So lots of hiking to the tops of hills.

Often these grouse flush long and fly out of the county making it difficult to continue pursuit. It seems the biggest benefit to early season is the birds are a bit less wary and may only fly a half-mile or so upon an initial flush. According to the same local employment forecaster, in a couple weeks the short escape flights will be over and our grouse will be back to their usual evasive genius.

The sharptail dictates the rules of the hunt: He will not consistently inhabit the same terrain. He may or may not hold for dogs. He may not allow for multiple opportunities. He will make you walk...... and far. Many of today's  sportsmen want to be able to control the game - decoys, scent attractors, calls of every sort, fenced/fixed boundaries. The sharptailed grouse will have none of it.

There are tactics to employ and improve success; I've been working on them and refining. When I get a system down I will be sure to share it, but I'm fairly certain that my secrets will be safe with the two other grouse hunters in ND.

Sep 8th

Do South Dakota for Your Dog

By GSP#1
Owning a bird dog means quite simply that you're going to spend money. It may be just on the simple things in life, aka, food, vet bills, toys, new furniture that he/she chewed as a puppy, etc, etc. But undoubtedly, trips to the local preserve get figured in, overnight trips in search of grouse or quail, e-collars, gps devices, dog booties, special pants, boots and vests become a must have to really be a bird dog owner. Much to the chagrin of my wife, I have morphed into the worst kind of upland hunter. I found a preserve close to home where, lo and behold, they needed a guide. I explained to my wife that it would be another source of income and really, what's the purpose of owning a birddog if he doesn't get a chance to hunt, right? Besides, the little extra I'd make on tips would certainly pay for the gas and maybe help with the family budget. Well, four years later, I'm still guiding and my GSP has seen more birds than most dogs will ever see in their lifetimes. But, still, something was incredibly wrong. I could sense that Kramer (the GSP) wasn't fulfilled, there was something missing in his life that wasn't making him a complete and happy gun dog. One day, on the drive home from the preserve he and I watched a Rooster cross the road in front of us. He looked interested, but not as much as I would think, he seemed to roll his eyes as if saying, " Yep, another pheasant, no biggee, we could go point it and kill it if you want, but I need something more." It struck me then, that I owed it to my faithful companion to complete his mission in life by taking him on a trip to South Dakota where he would get to experience "real" hunting. When I informed my wife that evening of an unhappiness in my dog that required treatment, she just rolled her eyes. After she got over her initial stubborness and name calling, "selfish, crazy, insane and damned fool also" and the three day silent waiting period, she finally relented. So I did what everyone does, I began my search on the Internet. Of course, while I was searching I was mentioning this hunt to my clients, and what do you know, a whole bunch of them wanted to go!!!!! After their wives started talking to them again they advised me to never be seen by their spouses, but more importantly, they wanted to know where I was taking them. When I talked with Kramer about it he seemed to show the most interest when I said the words, "bird-Soth Dakota". So South Dakota it became. And what a trip it was!!!! Kramer lost his mind in the first fifteen minutes, he didn't know whether to point, re-locate or retrieve. Luckily, he and I had gone to the ranch a few days early to do some "scouting". I informed my wife that this was necessary since I had clients who were depending on Kramer to come through, it was the right thing to do. After 11 days, Kramer had completed his education on the pursuit of a wild pheasant. Being the ham that he is, he ended the last day with a wonderful pin and point of a rooster, followed by the proverbial high headed retrieve, as if saying, "yep, made it to the majors and kicked their a**." Kramer was is heaven, not only seeing hundreds of pheasants but also numerous Hungarian Partridge (although they were little buggers to be honest). If you've never enjoyed this experience, do yourself a favor, wait better yet, explain to your wife that it's really for the dog -AND GO. The drive back was twenty-three hours, Kramer and I traded thoughts along the way. As we got closer to home I swear I heard him say "Huns, dad, they beat us up pretty good, we need to go back." My wife didn't argue, we'll be back in October.
Dec 24th

Shooting Preserves make economical sense

By Gun Dog Dixie
When my money is tight and I can't save the $2000 it takes to get me from Georgia to SD and back for a few weeks I rely on the local shooting preserves to keep my gun and my dogs in shape. I can shell out $250 for the opportunity to bag 20 bob white, leave a good tip to the guide and most likely be home sleeping in my own bed that night. Now is that what I would rather do. Of course not. I'd rather be in a bird rich area where I might have the chance to point and shot a WILD pheasant, shaprtail, hun, chicken. Every year is not a good year and the money is not always there. My dogs deserve to be in the field. later
Nov 12th

Sandhills and Sharp Tails

By Ultimate Upland Lodge

Awoke to stiff hip flexers, freezing rain and blistered heels. Yesterday had taken it's toll. Following Wyatt, my young black lab, into the sandhills on an overcast afternoon had netted us multiple covey rises and utter disorientation as dusk closed in. Fortunately I'd marked a waypoint and my batteries still had some life, providing us with a dotted green line to salvation. Moving quickly on foot through these massive mounds of silica is a challenge. All the birds we'd seen to this point were flushing long, but at least we'd laid eyes on the elusive late-season sharp-tailed grouse. We continued to flush a few long singles from the sandscape on the march back to the vehicle.  Upon arrival at our all-wheel-drive base, the skies opened up and saluted us with frigid rain. 

I knew I was going to pay for the pace required for that little hike, thanks to the sting of swelling blisters. After 250 miles and four years of wear, I considered this a capital offense from my boots, and I plan on throwing them in the trash when we get home.

One last check of the night sky prior to going to bed revealed the rain had converted to snow. Even my burning heels couldn't take away the sweet dreams of grouse holding close in new white powder.

Only it wasn't to be. Sometime during the night the snow had morphed into freezing rain and it was still coming down. The internal argument began. Did I really want to get soaked to the core, wreck my heels and chase birds that weren't gonna hold for a shot anyways? Wouldn't it just be nicer to take the morning off and reflect on what I could do differently next season to get on these grouse? I almost won that dispute. But if I wanted easy, why didn't I come for early season with uneducated birds? Besides, this would be the last chance for sharptail for a whole calendar year. 

So I strapped on my cold weather gear, and headed back out for one last stomp through the sandhills, blistered heels be damned. 

There was some white stuff still on the ground, but the conditions could best be described as drab with miserable freezing rain. Within the first few hundred yards of the location I had selected for this morning's torment, the predicted soaking had been accomplished. I had a little over an hour before I had to head back to the hotel for checkout.

The negatives of late season bird hunting are always present; fewer birds which are smarter. But the great thing about late season hunting is you get to see the true nature of these wild game. The bulk of the weak, mentally challenged and old have been eliminated by this time of year, and what remains is the purest strain of the bird. Figure out how to chase this bird now, and you will become a better, more knowledgeable hunter (at least this is my theory).

At it again, we started pushing birds at massive distances, which would get up, send a quick cackling laugh in our direction and then precede to soar to infinity and beyond. So much for sour weather impeding the will of the sharptail to evade capture. But over the last two days we've begun to recognize these birds' habits. Wyatt and I start to put these gems to work for us.

We manage to bump a bird that attempts the sharptail squawk just a few moments too late, and without hesitation or even a conscious thought, I swing with him from right to left and pull the trigger. In my periphery I  can see Wyatt - wild-eyed, soaking in the scene - and I send him down the hill to collect this phantom we've pursued for the last two days. He's not too interested in bringing it to hand just yet; he'd rather roll around and play a bit. And I think that's just fine. I believe this one small bird accrued 18 miles of hiking, which means Wyatt has tallied at least twice that much.

I'm sure I've been elated about birds in hand before, but right now I can't recall one I've ever cherished more.

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Nov 4th

Planning an Orderly Surrender

By Ultimate Upland Lodge

Grouse Hunting

After getting some great intel from locals at the coffee shop, we set out to blindly follow their advice. It is refreshing to trust people I don't know, disconcerting at first, but then truly liberating. When I bird hunt it starts stripping the layers of cynicism that have accumulated over the course of the non-hunting year.

It seems the customary response to my activity is "Grouse hunt? Really? Where are you from?". This area of Colorado sits smack in the middle of a massive tract of BLM and national forest. It is best known to elk and mule deer hunters.

We continue to trek through mountain passes and the grouse continue to elude us. As I talk to residents, the general consensus is 'go higher', and that's what we did today. The problem with higher altitudes this time of year is snow. It's been warm which has made a nice crust on the snow that proceeds to break with every step. Maybe I need snowshoes to hunt these birds this late. I'm not sure they make dog snowshoes and Wyatt breaks through with every step as well.

The oddity I find with going higher is the berries and willow buds which the blue grouse dine on are lower, where the snow is not. Why would these birds go higher where it's more difficult to get a meal? I don't have answers, just more questions.

We stomped through sparse cover, thick cover, lower, higher, all times of day. Wyatt has gotten birdie a few times but that's about it. And still the hunting is great. I fully admit I hunted an area that didn't even look that birdie to me just so I could inhale the view. Wyatt did end up stumbling upon some old bird scent on this hike too, so win win.

I met a guy at the coffee shop that hunts grouse with archery equipment. I really want to see that. I may have to make a follow up trip in the early season which, by all accounts, is when the real bird hunting activity happens.

In this same coffee shop the owners have a photo of a mountain lion taken from very near their property, the same area I've been hunting. Not in a zoo, not on television, nowhere have I seen a mountain lion this giant. I'll try and get a photo to post. Maybe this solves the mystery of where all the grouse have gone.

The biggest news is that elk and mule deer season return statewide on Saturday. The weather here has been warm, at least during the day, which means the elk and mule deer are still up high where I'm trying to find birds. Combine this with a young dog that needs to be put on birds, and it has me planning the retreat to lower country.

We've got one more day before the invasion of men with rifles. Maybe we'll get lucky tomorrow and push a bird. They are out there somewhere, probably higher than I've gone, in steeper terrain, looking down and laughing.