Implement these tips to get out in the uplands more throughout the year, no matter how full your schedule might be
Bird hunting takes time. Finding good cover, driving to that cover, and hiking around looking for birds is time-consuming. Factor in shooting practice and/or dog training and, all-in-all, bird hunting eats up many hours.
However, most people, myself included, don’t have a lot of hours to give. For those of us die-hard upland hunters, we have to find a way to fit hunting into our busy schedules.
No. 1: Find a hunting buddy (or several)
It isn’t essential to have someone to hunt with, but the accountability helps encourage you to get into the field more often. Canceling a planned hunt with a friend, spouse, or relative is far more difficult than bagging out on a solo hunt.
Just think how easy it is to tell yourself, “I am really tired,” or, “It was a long day at work,” or, “I think I’d rather…” compared to the extra effort it takes to call and hear the disappointment in your friend’s voice.
Since I began hunting four years ago, my hunting circle has continued to grow. My theory is, the more you do what you love, the more you find people who love it also. That, or you share your passion with someone new and get them just as hooked as you are. For me, it seems like at the start of each season we have a new hunter and/or new bird pup out with us looking for birds. We have found that getting a fresh bird dog on wild birds has a way of motivating the whole group into getting dirt on our boots.
Keep in mind, hunting by yourself is one of the most peaceful, rewarding experiences; one where you learn to hunt in a very different, focused way. While having a hunting buddy or group provides the above-noted help, if at all possible, please try to find a way to get out on your own.
No. 2: Do it for the dogs
Truthfully, this usually is my No. 1 “make time for hunting” motivator. When my American Brittany, Charlie, has been cooped up, he will dig through my hunting stuff, pull out my orange hunting beanie and bring it to me with the most soulful look in his eyes. It works every time.
Not to mention, non-exercised pups become wound-up hellions. My other pup, Hayward, our French Brittany, has a particular affinity for chewing small holes in the very center of our coziest blankets when he has pent-up energy. Turns out, the adage “A tired dog is a good dog” remains infallibly true. Even if you don’t have more than an hour, a quick hunt can make all the difference.
Another option is to run drills with your dog. It quells a touch of that bird hunting need, for the both of you; especially on those days when all you can manage is a quick trip to the local park. This also improves your dog’s ability the next time you do get a chance to shoulder your shotgun and head into the field. Keeps them sharp, if you will.
No. 3: Intentionally make time to hunt
In my experience, making time to hunt has to be a top priority—having almost a feeling of “obligation” associated with it—to motivate me to get out regularly. Putting upland hunting on the calendar, right next to that deadline for a project at work or a birthday party, creates a “to-do list” effect which can be very helpful. There are three ways to do this: set a date, make a vacation out of, and rearrange your schedule when you can.
About once a week during upland season, my husband, Tanner, and I sit down to compare schedules. If we have a block of more than four hours open together, they get designated as bird hunting time.
When we don’t have a common chunk of free time (which is often) we have to get clever. Sometimes it ends up where only one of us has time to hunt. Sometimes it means a super-fast one- to two-hour hunt close to home. The point here is to plan for it. That includes those solo hunts.
Additionally, try to make a vacation out of upland hunting at least once a year. Even if it is just a day or two during the entire season, take them off to run dogs and shoot at birds. I highly recommend taking time off in the middle of the week. Your boss might think it’s strange the first time you ask, but there is nothing like getting all the best hunting spots completely to yourself. Trust me.
Likewise, meeting up with out-of-town friends for a long weekend is the best fun you can have. Add bird hunting to it and there is just nothing better. We typically plan one trip during the early season where friends from western, central, and eastern Oregon, as well as eastern Idaho, meet us to hunt together. If there is a better way to kick off bird season, I haven’t found it.
The last tip I have for making time to hunt is to alter your schedule, where you can. It’s not something everyone can do. However, if possible, decreasing other time commitments or changing your schedule during bird season can mean a substantial increase in available hunting hours.
Truthfully, there is no way to recommend a one-size-fits-all suggestion to rearrange your schedule, so, I will share two examples of how I have personally implemented this one.
Currently, I am making my way through medical school. Moving things around in my schedule often feels like the only way I can sneak away to hunt with my pups. When I can, I skip live classes that are being recorded and watch them later. I spend quite a bit of time studying in the car on the way to and from hunting. I still miss a lot of hunts, but I can at least be there for a few of them.
Before medical school and probably much more relatable, I worked in an office that had just implemented flexible schedules. As long as I worked 40 hours, I was good to go. I opted to work nine-hour days on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday so that I had a half-day off on Wednesdays. It was awesome. I did have to sacrifice morning hunts, but it was perfect for me.
The important thing here is to balance your obligations with your passions. I don’t have it figured out, certainly, but I sure try. What more can you do?
No. 4: Have a spot in mind
Knowing where you are going cuts down immensely on wasted time during your hunting adventures. There are several ways to accomplish this.
The first is to go to a favorite spot you already know and love. The next is to spend an evening researching—with apps like OnX Hunt—spots that look promising, pick two or three close to each other, and head straight there. The last is to go on a scouting adventure—which often involves more tire time than boot time—to find birds for your next hunt.
Tanner and I frequently drive to new spots in the off-season to scout for birds. That, or we check on our beloved spots to see how the bird numbers are faring (intentionally leaving the dogs kenneled or at home during nesting season). We also keep our ears alert for grouse drumming during turkey season and chukar taunts when we are backpacking or rafting. In fact, many of our best new hunting spots are ones we have found while recreating during the off-season.
No. 5: Know close-to-home hunts
For those spontaneous, opportunistic, “I just happened to get off work early” hunts, it is invaluable to have somewhere that is within 30 minutes from your home or work. Particularly when the clocks change and the evening hunts after work become increasingly unviable, having a quick hunt you can race off to is an excellent way to add hunting days to your season and a few extra birds to your pot.
It isn’t always easy to find these places, especially for those in more urban settings. To start, I recommend being aware of all walk-in public access locations in the area and being open to requesting permission to hunt private property.
I have been fortunate to live in areas where public land access isn’t too far away, however it has often been challenging to find decent cover close to home. In fact, just this year one of my favorite quick pheasant hunts is no longer a Public Access and Habitat Property. Currently, I am on the search for a new close-to-home hunt, and it hasn’t been easy.
No. 6: Wake up early
Waking up in a warm, cozy bed on a weekend day is amazing. It eats up a whole lot of hunting time though.
Getting up at 4 or 5 a.m. is tough, but pulling into your hunting spot as the sun is rising and knowing you have the whole day with your dogs is the best feeling in the world. One of my favorite ways to hunt is to be on the chukar hills or in the grouse woods right before shooting light, chase birds for four to five hours, and still get home before noon. A quick shower and a short power nap later, and I have most of the day to do whatever I’d like.
Depending on your work schedule, getting up early might mean an extra day to hunt, especially during the early season. I have a buddy who hunts nearly every morning before work (at a close-to-home spot). He has a seemingly unending supply of game meat from September to January, and I am constantly envious.
No. 7: Camp on site
Another option is to camp—in a tent or car—near your hunting cover the night before. That way when you wake up, you simply collar the dogs and go.
It does require more intentional preparation, but it is a blast to make a whole trip out of it. What other excuse do you have to go camping in the winter?
Just make sure you check guidelines for that location, as some rules may apply.
No. 8: Be ready
Making excuses to cancel or postpone hunting is incredibly easy when you aren’t prepared. Hitting the snooze button one more time is oh-so-tempting when you realize you have forgotten to charge the dog collars or your boots are still wet from yesterday.
Being ready to hunt is a game-changer. Plus, getting ready the evening before gets the excitement pumping. It’s hard not to jump out of bed when it feels like Christmas or a trip to Disneyland.
Another be-ready tip is to keep your hunting gear in a specific, easy-to-grab-and-go place. For example, I keep all my hunting gear (ammo, gaiters, extra layers, water bottles, dog collars, etc.) in a milk crate near the front door. It isn’t exactly organized, but it is all in the same convenient place, usually.
Physical preparedness also helps a lot. Having a baseline fitness level is just one more excuse or barrier to hunting that you can remove, and it helps reduce the risk of injury. Exercising with your dog during the off-season keeps you both primed and ready to start the season off strongly.
Whether you are a weekend warrior or just hoping to get out a few times during the season, busy schedules can make it tough. Implementing any number of these things can help. No one, myself included, does this perfectly. Working on one or two might just be the push to give you a handful more days of bird hunting during the season.
Hunting is like any other hobby: it’s that thing you don’t have to do, but you really want to. To make time to hunt, you’ve got to prioritize it. Let’s be real, I don’t do everything I have suggested all the time; I have just found that these strategies help when I do. Hopefully, you might find them helpful as well.
Callie Krewson (she/her) is an Oregon native who has a BS in biochemistry from Eastern Oregon University and is currently attending medical school in Yakima, Washington, home of the Yakama Nation. She is a lifelong backpacker and whitewater paddler, a future pediatrician, and a former vegetarian. Callie began hunting four years ago with her husband, Tanner, and close friend and mentor, Thomas. Since then, they have adopted two bird dogs: Hayward, a French Brittany from Sunburst in western Idaho, and Charlie, an American Brittany rescue from northeast Oregon.