More often than not, most of us aren’t born into family ranches with an abundance of land. And even if you were, it’s a hard press for that land to be properly farmed and adequate enough to sustain a solid wild bird population. If you’re anything like me, that leaves you with one option, good ol’ public lands. Fret not my friends, for the code has been cracked and it’s more than feasible to travel and successfully harvest birds “abroad.” By utilizing social media forums and groups, working with local Fish & Game offices as well as bird biologists, putting in the appropriate amount of windshield time scouting for the bird-rich country and proper field management, you will indeed harvest more birds in unchartered grounds across the U.S.
Let’s start with the basics and the first steps in planning your trip. Once the species desired has been chosen and the state in which you’re hunting is locked down, it’s time to finally use social media for the good. Find and join local bird dog groups in the city, state or valley you plan to hunt. These rooms are chalked full of local knowledgeable folks, that in many cases are more than willing to help point a fellow dirt kicker in the right direction. Furthermore, and most often, being a fly on the wall has proven to be a successful tactic. Pay attention to the pictures and comments in these local forums, many times the location is tagged, and you can then start your research on possible parcels to scout, hunt, and harvest. There’s an old saying that goes a little something like “You don’t know if you don’t ask.” Be the out of towner, be the newbie but also be the guy/gal willing to ask for some pointers and take a no. Head into the local towns sporting goods stores, liquor stores, and local diners. There are bound to be blaze orange hats on truck dashes and briar pants with shooting shirts as attire. The worst they can tell you is no, ASK!
Step two and in my opinion the most important, contact the local Fish and Game office where you plan to hunt. It’s the first stop I like to make when entering a new town, I’m intended to hunt. For starters, there is no better place to learn the rules and regulations than from the officers who are in charge of enforcing those laws. Secondly, they will be able to provide you with the public land maps as well as any other literature needed to put together a successful trip. Pairing these public land maps with electronic programs like OnX Hunt has proven time and time again to produce dirty points and beautiful covey rises! Lastly, inquire about the contact information for the LOCAL BIRD BIOLOGIST! That’s right y’all, there is, in fact, a position held in every region to track and monitor the leaks (breeding grounds), hatches/broods and overall numbers of birds on state and federal managed properties. Granted, you most likely won’t conjure up latitude and longitude coordinates to a honey hole from the biologist, but you will absolutely have a better understanding of what areas to focus your time and energy hunting and what areas to let be.
There are three key ingredients (food, water, shelter/cover from predators) to identify for bird-rich habitat. If at all possible, allow yourself one full day just scouting and putting together what I like to call, your “Milk Run.” Spending the windshield time finding mother nature’s recipe for success will ensure an action-packed trip while best utilizing your dog’s energy and miles. If I were to focus on one main resource of the three key ingredients, I would locate all the areas with water running directly through the land you’re allowed to legally hunt. Whether that be rivers, creeks, stream, ponds or old holding tanks and troughs for cows…. Locate the water and you will locate the birds. It has been said that wild birds can go upwards of a week or more without a full meal, yet parish after three days without water. Even if the water source is parallel or adjacent to the grassy/prairie you intend on hunting, chances are you will still have more bird contacts opposed to focusing your boot time on lands without a direct water source. Food and cover, on the other hand, are going to vary per region and species. Substance for birds as we know can range anywhere from seeds and grain, grasses and berries, bugs and some gravel to break it all down. A safe bet always is hunting next to or near the crop. Corn, milo, sorghum, millet and more, its easy pickings for the creatures of the uplands and who doesn’t love easy pickings? Words to the wise, when you’ve been walking for miles and you find yourself around grasshoppers, keep that trigger finger froggy. I can’t tell you how many times we point and flush birds around hopper rich grounds!
The location has been chosen, the guns are cleaned, the dogs are kenneled, and the truck is loaded down. You’ve met the Fish and Game Officers spoke to the biologist and ran through a tank of gas, 3 Red Bulls, two packs of beef jerky and some gummy worms… its GO TIME! You pull up to the first parcel and park. You get out of your truck slamming the doors, laughing and chumming it up in excitement. Throwing on your bird vest and filling up the water bottles, the tailgate drops, the kennel doors open, and the E-collars go on. In the 10 minutes you prepped outside the truck you sent every bird in that field to the next county! This my friends is a subject I refer to as “Field Management” and in my professional dirt kicking opinion, the most underrated. Do yourself a favor and try a few of these tactics before leaving to hunt, it will allow you to have less tailgate time and more hunting less spooky birds. Load your vest up prior to leaving the house in the morning, all water bottles, shell pockets, and gadgets ready to go. Throw the E-collar on the dogs and water them before kenneling them, allowing you to pull up to the field, throw a vest on and get to work. Remember to always hunt with the wind in your face or a nice crosswind if possible, by doing so we are always putting the dogs in the best position to find the scent cones. Another great tip is to stay away from walking the edges of the fields. We are talking public lands folks, every Dick and Harry before you walked the perimeter of the field and back to the truck. Often with all the commotion by the parking location, coupled with 100 hunters walking the edges before you, the center of the fields are often packed with action. Instead, try a tactic by splitting the field in half on the first pass. Allow birds to flush left and right while still keeping them on public grounds. Not only will this give you a one-up on the birds in the center of the field but will also make your second pass an easier decision by keeping track of numbers flushing left and right.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to dropping your tailgate and putting boots to dirt. All the research, time and experience can’t hold a candle to a little good luck and a whole lot of hard work. There are no greater life experiences than watching the sunrise and set over your dog on point. Solace in its purest form there is no other life for me.