3 Countries — 6 Months — 10 States — 27 Species — 42,667 Miles Traveled
The quest to complete the North American Upland Slam of 27 species began in September of 2019 in Nevada and concluded in Senora, Mexico during February 2020. It was a formidable challenge to accomplish this adventure in one hunting season using our own dogs and capturing it on film. Due to a past history of pursuits, most people classify me as “The International Big Game Guy.” It is often shocking when people learn that my first passion, and where I cut my teeth, was upland hunting with my Dad and our dogs. Dad (Earl) is still in phenomenal condition and able to hunt alongside me, so we decided not to wait another year to bring our upland passion full circle.
Among our other purposes for this endeavor were to experience different behaviors, habitats, locales, and
pursuit tactics of this hemisphere’s greatest wild birds. The education we received is indescribable especially when one considers our dogs adapted to all the different scenarios having neither seen nor smelled a majority
of the species.
Upland birds can be indicator species of an ecosystems’ health. Upland birds typically have, for instance, smaller home ranges than waterfowl or elk. Therefore, year-round habitat health becomes essential to supporting their life cycle as transitions occur from breeding grounds, nesting, juvenile development to winter survival. There are crossovers between the food, water and shelter needs of upland birds and big game species. Locate areas with consistency in these three necessities and you will find yourself in birds and other quality animals.
After reflecting on the six months it took to complete this adventure, I thought, “what knowledge could I pass along to aspiring hunters who might want to attempt an upland slam of their own?” There are three things that can make or break your outing. My recommendation is to keep it simple and focus on Dogs, Gear and Location.
Every hunter has their own opinion on which breed is the best and these beliefs will vary. Shooter, Arrow, and Tiny are Brittany Spaniels. We have hunted over this breed for years as it is one Dad and I enjoy for upland hunting, due to the agility and energy they bring to the field. Our dogs exhibited great versatility by adapting to diverse conditions throughout the season. Can you imagine what it is like for these dogs to hunt 27 different scents?
Throughout the adventure, we worked hard to make sure that the dogs were cared for and rested properly. We utilized Garmin Alpha collars to monitor how many miles they covered. It was quite a season for the dogs as they amassed over 7,000 combined miles of ground while hunting.
It was very beneficial to have a variety of specialty among the dogs. Arrow is a “Ranger” by nature. He grew up in Michigan hunting Grouse and Woodcock. His style of hunting personality was suited for the tighter/more heavily wooded areas. Tiny was the runt of the litter (as well as a sibling to Arrow) and had to be resuscitated early in life by my Dad. This helped form a lifelong bond between them. As a result, Tiny is the closest working of the three and does not venture far from Dad. This trait proved ideal for places like Saskatchewan and where we hunted Blue Grouse in nearly impassable cover. Shooter is the wide working dog. He grew up in Texas quail country. As the “King People Pleaser”, Shooter’s job was to cover ground and hold the birds tight. There’s cactus in Texas and Shooter’s big, tough paw pads were well suited for places like Wyoming, Arizona, Mexico, and South Dakota. Arrow and Tiny had to learn from him throughout the trip…there’s not much cactus in Michigan.
There were several injuries along the way. Rough rocks, thorns, barbed wire and hidden obstacles all caused cuts, bruises, and muscle strains. Having good bench strength and travel in between destinations helped ensure our dogs were not being over worked.
• Lewis Dog Boots, Duct and Electrical Tape: Dogs do not like boots as they are not natural. These boots perform the best of anything I have used to date and with little tape on the boot exterior, stay on the paw well. Always carry extra boots and some light-weight electrical tape in your vest.
• EMT Gel: This product is great for cuts and hot spots. It will stop bleeding while deterring wound licking.
• First Aid Kit: Invest in a quality Canine First Aid Kit that includes a stapler, tools, and medications to be prepared. Hopefully, you will not have to use any of the contents. The stapler came in especially handy after encountering barbed wire.
• Gunner Kennels – These are awesome. Crash-tested and indestructible. When you need peace of mind and a low replacement cost/use kennel, Gunner has it figured out. I also recommend stepping up with the orthopedic pad, tie-downs, and all-weather kit (if you do not have a topper).
It is difficult to pick my top gear favorite because all gear is a favorite depending on function and end use. However, if a person had to focus on the top five essential items after dogs are covered, my picks would be:
Meindl Vakuum Hunter Boots — I have worn Meindl’s for so many years and on this expedition we covered 250-300 Miles on foot. The Vakuums were so versatile that I wore them on every occasion. They break in easily with a good fit/feel.
Cabela’s Instinct Upland Vest — Light, breathable, plenty of storage and ample storage options make this an essential for covering miles away from the vehicle.
Benelli Ethos 20 Gauge Shotgun and Kent Ultimate FastLead — Most of the gamebirds were small to midsize. The Ethos is lightweight and fits my pull length so well. This allows for quick swings adding effectiveness to a size 5, 6, 7 or 7-1/2 Shot specification.
Cabela’s Rainy River Parka & Pant — Extremely durable and endured abrasions very well. The Gore-Tex PacLite fabric kept me dry and handy enough to pack in my vest when it looked like inclement weather was possible.
Cabela’s Instinct Wool Socks — Good socks and boots go hand and hand. High merino wool content and extra padding in high stress areas like the heel, ball and shin area provide extra comfort.
Other items worth mentioning — Ruff Tuff Seat Covers combined with Weathertech floor liners. Protecting and keeping the truck clean was important as we spent so much time in the vehicle. Both brands provide the best protection and are durable enough to last. A.R.E and Mobile Strong truck bed accessories were a must for all the travel and needed storage space.
Upland birds can be indicator species of an ecosystems’ health with smaller home ranges, for instance, than waterfowl or elk. Therefore, year-round habitat health becomes essential to supporting populations throughout a life cycle from breeding grounds, nesting, juvenile development to winter survival. There are crossovers between the food, water and shelter needs of upland, big and non-game species. Locate areas with consistency in these three necessities and you will find yourself in birds and other quality animals.
A self-imposed challenge Dad and I made was that we were in search of all wild birds (no pen raised/ preserves). This added some difficulty and we audibled on two instances. Eastern Nebraska was hit hard with spring snow and flooding, which made it necessary to make other arrangements for Bobwhite Quail in Kansas where they were less impacted. Wild Chukar also proved to be challenging in Wyoming, so we ended up in Eastern Oregon with a great outfitter who was willing to help us out.
I will be the first to tell you we could not have done this without the support of the many outfitters, guides, sponsors, and Worldwide Trophy Adventures (WTA) to achieve this feat in one year. WTA consultants are professionals who know where to go for the best experiences. We relied on their knowledge for the best locations and outfitter pairings. In the eight years WTA has assisted in my worldwide travels, only once was a hunt not successfully completed (Alaska – I was on medevac out of the bush with a serious neck injury and unable to complete the hunt).
If you are an avid bird hunter and desire to attempt the upland slam, it is possible. Set your goals. Whether it is a fast track, six to seven years, or a lifetime, guided or unguided, this pursuit is an amazing journey through some of the greatest lands in North America.
The final piece of advice to pass along is enjoy this with a partner/s. For me, it was my Dad. For you, it might mean your best friend, spouse, daughter, or son. Long hours are spent travelling/hunting. A companion will help motivate, lift spirits and morale along the journey.
I continue to be blessed with the opportunities to hunt all types of game. If you like what you’ve heard and want to see full episodes of The Journey Within, please click the button below.