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Make The Most Of That Preserve Trip
Upland Life hears some thoughts from the folks who see it every day.

If you're lucky enough to be invited to hunt on a friend's property or tag along on a private outing, you'll be going with folks that have a special social interest in looking out for you. Everyone's happier if no one in the hunting party, human or canine, is uncomfortable, under-equipped, or not ready for the day. Hopefully your friend is the kind that's good enough to tell you even the stuff he thinks you might already know - he wants a good time in the field, just like you. And, he probably wants to be sure that the property owner or his other buddies don't question his sanity for asking you along. So, you can expect at least a couple of briefings before you head out: a talk about clothing, safety, shotguns, ammo, licenses, blaze orange, safety, food, water, bag limit expectations, dog basics, etiquette, and of course, safety. That's what friends are for, and since you are a good friend, you always take the lecture with a smile.

So, what if it's not friends with whom you're going to hunt? If you're not hunting alone (the buddy system is just as important with shotguns as it is with SCUBA gear), that probably means you're parting with a little money to work with a guide or have a traditional preserve put out some birds for you. Hunting is still hunting, so the logistical stuff doesn't change much... but the lack of familiar social support shifts things a bit. Of course, anyone that runs hunts as a business (for some examples from across the entire spectrum, check out our preserve listings) has a truly vested interest in your safe, enjoyable use of their services.

If a guide or preserve's team is worth their salt, they'll be at least as talkative as your hunting buddy in making sure you're tuned into what you'll need and want during your hunt. But hunt operators don't want to come across as condescending, or insult anyone's intelligence - and they may gloss over some of the things that they just assume you'll already know, have, or be prepared for. Don't assume anything, and don't let them, either. You're reading our material on a web site, and we couldn't be bigger proponents of getting your info online and using e-mail to make the best use of everyone's time... but absolutely nothing beats a phone call with the folks that will be guiding or hosting your hunt. It's a great way to get a feel for the personalities involved, and to spontaneously cover the little stuff that can make or break that great experience for which you'll be paying.

We thought we'd ask a few upland hunt operators for some advice about how their customers can better enjoy a day on their grounds, and what sort of things their hunters sometimes forget to bring or think about as they head to the field. These are folks who are part of hunts every day of the season, so it's worth digesting what they have to say.

Jason Frerichs, of the Lick Skillet Hunt Club
(be sure to visit their web site so you can stop wondering where that name came from)

What do folks forget? Jason says they don't have many issues. Since they are an appointment-only outfit, it lets them inform each customer of the things they'll need. Proper legal tender, though, is very important. The expense and practicalities of taking credit cards doesn't allow for all clubs to offer that service (if you are a small merchant with only a few transactions per day, you'll know how true that is) - so cash is king, and it's nice not to have to make lots of change for hundred dollar bills. He also hears the "I forgot my license" phrase a little more often than he'd like, and reminds hunters that not every preserve or club can directly sell a day-long permit, and it may be quite a drive back to the nearest retailer. Just don't ask the club to pretend they don't know you're without a license - that's a big legal risk they can't afford.

How can hunt customers make their day more enjoyable?
Jason says, "This could be a touchy one. The biggest thing we deal with, aside from the weather, is what the customer expects as far as the quality of not only the birds but the habitat as well. For example, a few times each year with new clients we run into a self-guided group that is not prepared for the hunting experience we offer. Since our focus is on 'wild,' we offer extremely flighty game birds in heavy and vast Midwest cover that may take them over 100 acres of rolling prairie grass, creek edges and hardwood timber in just half a day. Needless to say, when they are coming from a 'boot and shoot' club with 10 - 40 acre flat fields of cool season grasses, they are in for a challenge and don't usually have the dog power to handle it."

So he recommends that, in advance, a customer asks about the layout of the hunting grounds, the number of acres and the nature of the birds (Jason suggests that may be a prickly topic with some operations, because just bringing it up implies that you're worried about their business practices). In truth, some pen-raising conditions produce planted birds that are just ground-candy for (especially younger) dogs that are less steady or that run in a style that results in some bird bumping. Be pleasant, and get the guide's sense of how the birds really behave, and go ahead and talk up front about your dog's habits and experience - they may plant differently to help you out. Many preserves are steadily fed birds from larger farming operations, and the preserve's choice of a regular bird source can make a big difference in the hunting experience.

Kevin Olsen, of Markover Hunting Preserve

What do folks forget? Kevin knew right away: "The one thing many people wish they had brought is a camera, just a simple disposable one to take shots out in the field and then one or two shots of friends and family at the lodge or in front of the rack at the end of the day. The fancy digital ones are great around the lodge, but if you lose one of those out in the field it'll ruin your day." He also mentioned footwear, with an eye towards matching the boots to the conditions. Nice light upland boots that are perfect for an October afternoon's walk through the corn stubble might turn out to be miserable on an unusually warm January day when the thawing frost produces a sticky mud slick (break out the Wellies!). Of course, with all that room in the SUV, it's just crazy not to carry a duffle with a couple changes of footwear, including something comfortable to sooth your feet after a day's stomping. And of course, an extra pair or two of socks.

How can hunt customers make their day more enjoyable?
Kevin's also quite sure about this one. "Without a doubt, relax. Enjoy the experience, the dog work, the views, the company of your hunting companions, and just being outdoors. You may miss a bird, or more, but that's part of the sport." He thinks it's very important not to beat your self up when a tricky shot escapes you, since it just makes the good shots feel that much better when you've spent the day taking it all in stride.

Rene Thibault, of Southbound Sporting Preserve

What do folks forget?
Rene observed that no one goes out the door without forgetting at least one little thing or another (usually, nothing you can't stop for at a Wal-Mart in a pinch), but since many of his customers fly into his southern Virginia locale, he thought he'd relate a recent circumstance. A visitor headed to his local New England airport to catch a Virginia-bound plane for the first leg of the trip to the preserve. Carefully packed in his car's trunk was his expensive ATA-rated aluminum flight-worthy shotgun case, containing his two favorite field shotguns. Great! Except, the key to the gun case was sitting back on the hall table at home. These days, you can't expect to check a gun case at the airport without being able to open it for the TSA, and if you can't open it, they will - the hard way, leaving you unable to re-lock the case for its trip through the cargo portion of the airline's system. Or (as in this case), the guns ended up staying in the car's trunk in the airport parking lot for the weekend. That's better than having the case trashed by security, but leaving the beloved Parker in the car is enough to keep you from having the relaxing weekend you were setting out to have in the first place. Yes, you can open the case's padlocks with bolt cutters and replace them when you get where you're going, but that's not a problem you can solve at the airport. The lesson: when you're traveling with guns, give yourself plenty of time to allow for the Oops Factor, and remember that those TSA folks have a lot on their plates.

How can hunt customers make their day more enjoyable?
It may seem a little stand-offish from some perspectives, but Rene's theory on this subject is more true than most people will casually admit. He recommends booking a preserve (or a well-isolated spot on one) that relieves you from dealing with strangers unless that's specifically what you're there to experience. Most hunters that can afford to book with a pro guide or a higher-end preserve are usually over-worked, busy professional people. The time away during the brief bird season is precious, and to spend any of it fretting over the social quirks, gun-wielding care, or dog-handling idiosyncrasies of someone else (who is doing the same thing about you) probably isn't helping you relax and enjoy what you're buying. If a preserve will have your party bumping into other parties in the field (or over dinner), that should be established in advance.

Our own two cents on this topic? Other than taking along more dog water than you think you'll need, take care of those shotguns! You may have a favorite, well-babied trap gun that you shoot every month at the range, but when was the last time you slicked-up the pistons on your gas-operated repeating field beater? Firing pins nice and free-moving on that old double gun you're taking out for the first time in a year, and straight into 30-degree, grease-freezing weather? Procrastination can really come back to haunt what should be a nice time with your buddy and his great dog.

When in doubt, or just as a standard procedure, bring a second gun and appropriate ammo. If your 'A' gun goes south, you've got a standby, and if your buddy's gun locks up, you're the hero. It's easy enough to just grab that extra gun out of the safe - but don't forget that old bandana in which you wrapped up the spare chokes, too. There's nothing worse than showing up for a quail hunt with your full-on goose choke installed, and all your other choices sitting back on the bench at home. Some day when you're not in the middle of preparing for a hunt, work up a check list that you can roll up and stick out of the barrel of your go-to bird gun as a visual reminder.



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