Posts Tagged ‘Wingshooting USA’

So, what’s the best approach for you, the bird, and Buddy?

Here’s a lesson I’m learning almost weekly this time of year. Maybe you, too. You trudge up the hill to find your dog on point. He’s steady. Birds cooperative. Until you take over, that is.

Once he’s pinned a bird, I try to help Buddy do a great job handling it. I approach from at least an oblique angle, not striding right past. He’s less likely to break point. If I can, I get birds to hold instead of run by squeezing them between Buddy and me.

Want another reason to approach your dog from the front? He’s not right under the muzzle blast and it’s deafening effect. That way, he’ll have one less excuse for not hearing my commands. Even when I miss. Which is often.

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The reason we go

The reason we go

Protein is not the prime objective for Wingshooting USA TV viewers when they take to the uplands in search of pheasant, quail and grouse. That’s one revelation in show host Scott Linden’s fourth annual “Upland Nation Index,” a national survey of his viewers. The languishing economy might prompt big-game hunters and waterfowlers to make meat for the pot a priority; in fact, a recent more general survey identified a rising trend among hunters going afield primarily to supplement their pantries. But Linden says for upland bird hunters, food isn’t their primary objective.

“Watching my dog work” is the main reason Linden’s fans go hunting, according to his survey. With over 33 percent of Wingshooting USA viewers owning two or more dogs, that shouldn’t be surprising. And while that may be a full house for some, 28 percent of Linden’s fans are planning to buy another dog soon, say respondents.

“Being with friends and family” is the number two reason viewers hunt, being in natural surroundings ranks third, and “bringing home food” ranks dead last among choices in the Index. Speaking of priorities, Wingshooting USA TV fans live, eat and breathe shotgunning and bird dogs. When they’re not hunting, their principal free-time activities are dog training and clay target shooting (42 percent each).

Where are they going in pursuit of their passions? Forty-five percent hunt public land almost exclusively. Forty-two percent hunt private land via one of the landowner access programs or by asking permission, and the remaining 13 percent hunt primarily on preserves.

Linden’s fans are a restless lot too. Fifty-six percent plan to hunt outside their home state, with South Dakota the prime destination (25 percent of all out-of-state trips) and Kansas capturing the interest of another 17 percent.

The Upland Nation Index surveyed 1,700 viewers of the Wingshooting USA television program in January, 2013. The margin for error is plus or minus five percent. Wingshooting USA is the most-watched upland bird hunting show in the U.S., airing on seven networks including a debut on Discovery Channel’s Destination America this summer. It is the official TV series of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

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A well-deserved drink.

The weather girl had it right for a change: winter was starting right on time. So did we. Here in South Dakota you can’t start hunting until 10 a.m., to me and my crew, a most civilized statute. Departing Ringneck Retreat, we were in the truck and rolling a few minutes before the appointed hour, down a bumpy farm road past a feedlot and into the boondocks.

A light snow coated round bales and thistle blooms, adding magic to the morning – Tinkerbelle’s sprinkling of pixie dust – to our adventure. Gray skies weren’t enough to darken our spirits – a breeze from the west beckoned canine noses and human feet.

Buddy and Manny got the nod today. After too many miles in their Owens boxes they trembled with anticipation. Park – guns out – cameras rolling – rattle open the door. At the timber patch that was our starting line, Manny rocketed over logs, shimmied under bushes, snaked around the ancient elms’ alligator-skin trunks. The thick grass underfoot yielded not a bird.

Once out of the timber, he was on point within seconds. Bird up! And quickly down. The young wirehair had hit his stride, galloping toward the crumpled rooster, he snuffled it into his grip. A short race back and he relinquished it gently to hand. Fifty yards later, another lock-up, cackling flush and bird crashing into the ditch. Right-left-middle he coursed until the enticing aroma of birds arrested his forward progress. One got away clean. Another was warned with a surprise early shot then grounded with the top barrel. The last rooster in the strip jinked hard right, soaring over our blocker. The shot string from his first barrel drew feathers, but the rooster reversed field and soared three hundred yards over cut soybeans before rolling as he hit the ground.

Manny was off like a drag racer at the green light, quickly outdistancing the young Labrador stationed at heel with another blocker. Scooped up and trundled 900 feet back to me and the camera, the ringneck was relinquished from the tender grasp of a bearded muzzle. Maybe it was the pixie dust, a smidgen of fairy tale. Whatever the cause, it was an enchanting day.

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horse blogSome psychologists say we measure our life by a tally of our “peak experiences.” I was reviewing the rough cut of an upcoming episode from South Dakota, writing the script and reminiscing, when I was reminded that one of my peak experiences included horses. And sharptails and South Dakota. It’s an unbeatable trifecta, and while putting words to it I finally figured out why:

For you it might be Maine woodcock, New Brunswick ruffies or Alaska ptarmigan, doesn’t matter. What counts is that you take the journey, live the experience toe to head … inhale it, let it fill your lungs, oxygenate your blood and transform to life force. Straddling a Tennessee Walking Horse does it for me.

I know enough about horses to stay far from the kicking end and on top as often as possible. That’s the first lesson everyone learns, sometimes the hard way, sometimes not. If you own horses, you’d likely agree – even a mature horse acts like a two-year-old kid – easily spooked, unpredictable, but this two-year-old weighs in at 800 pounds. Theory meets application when you’re stuck in a stall with a freaked-out horse.

Beyond the clear and present danger of concussion or lung puncture, horses are beautiful animals. We’ve lionized them in literature and cinema for good reason. They are (in their way) loyal and noble partners in so many of humanity’s triumphs and tragedies, rightfully the subject of our admiration. Since the Spanish Conquistadors brought them back to North America in the late 1400’s we’ve partnered with Equus ferus caballus on exploration and migration, adventure and duty … at times trusting our lives to them.

I’ve spent a couple decades around them, as have most of my dogs. They are elegant animals that seem to dial down the stress level whenever one sets foot in a paddock. Their calming influence is universal, chores become less of a drudgery, dogs in their adjacent yard also mellow in their presence. At rest, horses breathe deep, slowing our own heartbeat. Their size is comforting much like an aesthetically pleasing building makes a welcoming home.

When you saddle up in search of prairie grouse, those factors combine, transporting you back in time and across rolling hills. Your mental pace slackens and you become, for a bit, a pioneer. Your perspective is different, literally, being eight feet in the air. Once you get the hang of staying in the saddle, your outlook is also altered. It’s another reason for you to try a horseback hunt – you come back changed for the better.

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Linden Outdoors SamplesDespite the gun control debate and continuing economic doldrums, upland bird hunters are bullish on their sport and their future participation, according to Wingshooting USA television producer/host Scott Linden’s “Upland Nation Index.”  Now in its third year, the survey compares a statistical base of 2011 to subsequent years. The most recent numbers are garnered from a survey of over 600 respondents chosen at random from Wingshooting USA viewers completed in January.

Overall purchasing plans for the year show a gain of almost 9 percent versus the base year. Strong categories included hunting vests (up 24 percent), Trucks/SUVs (up 31 percent) and electronic training or GPS collars (up 18 percent). Other data shine light on that optimism: plans to purchase more than three cases of ammo (up over 3 percent), plans to hunt more days than last season (up 12 percent), and number of respondents who hope to hunt at a lodge or preserve, up 18 percent. Over 30 percent hope to buy another hunting dog in 2013.

Linden says recruitment also indicates a market’s optimism. The number of viewers who took a newcomer hunting three or more times last season spiked significantly, up 238 percent over 2012; the total number of viewers who took a newcomer at least once also jumped, up 35 percent versus the prior year.

The Upland Nation Index also measures brand awareness and market share in key product categories. Most categories remained relatively flat through the three-year period. However, several companies saw significant increases in brand awareness: shotgun company Caesar Guerini USA saw an almost 19 percent leap, training collar maker Dogtra jumped 7 percent, and Nutrena’s Loyall dog food brand enjoyed a 53 percent bump. Not surprisingly, all three brands invested heavily in advertising during the period.

“Wingshooting USA viewers are clearly excited about the coming year, whether it’s because the election season is behind them, they are working or earning more, or have simply decided there’s no time like the present to pursue their passion,” Linden said.

The Upland Nation Index is not just about dry statistics, he added. Like his TV show, Linden puts the fun in market fundamentals, asking his viewers which dog breed is their favorite (tie: Labrador Retriever and German Shorthaired Pointer), their favorite game bird (ringneck pheasant) and most popular out-of-state hunting destination, South Dakota.

Wingshooting USA is the official TV series of the National Shooting Sports Foundation and its initiative, www.wingshootingusa.org, where you will find a directory of thousands of hunting preserves and lodges and can enter to win a free hunting trip with your child and appear on the TV show. Other Wingshooting USA sponsors include TruckVault, Happy Jack Inc., and Cabela’s.

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