As hunters, many of our first hunting and fishing memories are with our fathers. My Dad was alongside me for all of my firsts in the field. Dad was with me for my first duck, my first turkey, my first deer, my first upland bird and so many other firsts. It was Dad’s early passion for chasing grouse and woodcock, with our bird dogs in native Michigan, that led me to my first German Shorthair, Rusty. I followed Rusty, a fantastic upland dog and my best friend as a teenager, from the time he was a pup until that terrible day of loss when he just could not make another day. As an upland hunter, I am lucky because I work with so many great dogs but also know that I have a difficult burden. Because of the difference in our lifespans, I have the joy of watching a young upland dog learn to do what he was born to do and have all of those good years with him. Then, I also watch his declining years and eventually have to find his resting place near a favorite hunting spot we have on our river property. It was Dad’s drive and passion for the outdoors that led me down the road of seeking, with our dogs, to complete the Upland Slam in a single year. Dad has told me, several times, about reading an article by an older bird hunter in his mid 80’s, who buys a bird dog pup and a new pair of boots knowing that both the bird dog and boots will outlast him. The time I spent with my Dad on this upland hunting adventure, was a very special time for both of us. On my Upland Slam journey, Dad was right there alongside of me; he still has more boots and dogs left in him.
By my best calculation, we traveled 42,662 miles, by pick-up and air, and walked in excess of 350 miles behind our dogs. We hunted together, over six months, more than 100 days. Arrow, Shooter and Tiny had a combined, on the ground hunting mileage, that exceeded 7,000 miles. Although we stitched and bandaged up cuts, pulled cactus thorns by the 100’s, soothed sore pads and treated minor injuries almost daily, we were extremely lucky in that our dogs successfully managed the slam. Both hunters and dogs would hunt long, hard days. Along the way, we stayed at some camps where we left, in the morning, before the other hunters got up and returned to eat, after taking care of our dogs, later than 10 pm. The upland quest was not easy and, some days, took all we had in us. Some travel days, in the pick-up, were 18-hour grueling affairs as we tried to reach our next destination. We were sick of fast food lunches and dinners. Travel days did, however, help both tired dogs and tired hunters re-charge for the next upland adventure.
Along the way to completing the Upland Slam, there was a lot of luck involved. In Nevada, I hit my Himalayan Snowcock going away at 60+ yards on the 3rd shot; that probably would have been my only shot opportunity on that extremely difficult to find bird. In Alaska, we had 3 days where we might have been grounded 100% of the time, due to fog, but we were able to slip out and get the three species of ptarmigan. In Wyoming, we only had a couple of hours left on our last day and we convinced Andy, our guide, to make a try for Dusky Blue Grouse. Up on the mountain, with only 30 minutes of light remaining, Tiny found them. Dad took one to the right and I shot mine, through a tree, going away. We worked hard, but the weather generally cooperated, our dogs healed up quickly after injury and we were just plain lucky.
Because we had the rule that the Upland Slam could not include either “planted” or pen raised birds, large sections of the country were off limits to us. For example, we excluded the southeastern US for bobwhite as there are so many supplemented birds there. We had planned to find them in Nebraska, but the area was beaten up from a snowstorm. We found our bobwhite on a Kansas deer ranch where the outfitter steered us to a stretch alongside a small river. In Wyoming, over a period of three days, we walked 50 miles behind our dogs and did not put up a single wild chukar. How did we handle these situations?
The main key to successfully completing the Upland Slam was the hard work by the team at WTA. They put together the plan so that we could work with the best outfitters available, in each state or area, to increase our odds of success. On the more difficult species, they scheduled us in on either the opener or close to the opener. When Nebraska didn’t work for bobwhite, they set us up in Kansas. When Wyoming didn’t work for chukar, they got us to a great outfitter in eastern Oregon. Thank you, WTA team. Without you, this would not have been possible.
We had many great outfitters and great guides who helped us and worked above and beyond what could normally be expected. They each knew that the goal was to complete the Upland Slam in a single year, and they got us to the birds. Each of you played a giant role in the successful completion of the Upland Slam. All of you did your very best to make sure I completed the slam. For this, I am forever grateful. And, dang, we had a lot of fun over those 6 months.
But like anything in life, it’s time to turn the page and move to the next chapter. For me, the next chapter of my hunting journey is going to focus on waterfowl. It will be my goal to complete the Waterfowl Slam during a single season. In reviewing the potential species, the Waterfowl Slam I am seeking will consist of a total of 43 species. Please see below for the full list. There will also be, along the way, possible opportunistic add-ons. I have split the Waterfowl Slam between dabbling ducks, diving ducks, geese and others. During this journey, I plan to see and to tell the story of how the various waterfowl species, like all other species of North American game, need continued conservation to survive for future generations.
I had planned to start this journey off in Saskatchewan with Emily and Lance Robinson at Safari River, as there is nowhere else in the world that has the high-end waterfowl hunting like Saskatchewan. But like so many things this year, my plans have changed because of Covid. The US/ Canada border remains closed so I will, instead, start my adventures here in Michigan, before hitting the road. I will travel to Alaska twice, Arkansas, Rhode Island, Maine, Maryland, North Carolina, North Dakota, Minnesota, Florida twice, and Sonora. The great team at WTA is putting the dates and outfitters together. I’ve hunted with some of the outfitters and guides before, but I am excited to try for the Waterfowl Slam and am also excited to meet some really great people along the way.
Yes, it will be another busy hunting season. And, Dad did tell me he would tag along on some of the hunts. I can’t wait for this new waterfowl adventure!