Outdoors: A long trip for bird hunting

January 2016

By Mike Zlotnicki

I knew when purchased my latest bird dog that upland bird hunting in North Carolina was an iffy proposition at best. But, by parsing together some ruffed grouse, bobwhite quail, woodcock, dove and waterfowl along with some preserve hunts, it can be done.

Mike Z and Annie

The author recently returned from upland bird hunting in
North Dakota that was hard to beat. Local reports may indicate
a bump in bobwhite quail populations in some parts of
North Carolina. Photo by Jason Stanley

The other part of that equation is having a versatile hunting dog, meaning one of the pointing breeds that is just as adept at water work. I chose another German shorthaired pointer out of versatile lines. Other popular versatile breeds include the German wirehaired pointer, vizsla, pudelpointer, Deutsch drahthaar and Weimaraner. Properly trained, these breeds will do anything a Labrador retriever will do in the water and anything a pointer or setter will do in upland work.

If you want to squeeze several seasons of upland and waterfowl action into one week – yes, one week – and take full advantage of a versatile dog, North Dakota is a great destination.

I made the 27-hour trek in September, our group of five Tar Heel hunters meeting groups from Oklahoma, Ohio, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Some were old friends, and some had never met. The one common denominator among us is that nearly every one of the 30-odd German shorthairs in camp were related within a couple of generations in their pedigrees. Most of the dogs came from three kennels: Sundance in North Carolina, Friedelsheim in Maryland and Stillwater in Ohio.

Space does not allow a blow-by-blow account of the week spent in Wing, the aptly named town we stayed in, but other than my dog missing some time after stepping in a leg-hold trap set for coyotes, it was a versatile dog’s paradise. Most mornings were spent on sloughs hunting waterfowl, followed by a quick change of clothes and gear. The rest of day was spent hunting ring-necked pheasants in cattail sloughs and Hungarian partridge and sharp-tailed grouse in native grass fields. North Dakota has a robust “walk-in” hunting program with ample public land. Also, private land not posted for “no trespassing” can be legally hunted. A hunter simply has to check the corners of the section for signs.

It was a great week of hunting, and the best part is that good hunting is not just happening in North Dakota. Reports from Texas to North Dakota are of rebounding upland bird numbers. Could a rebound happen in North Carolina? Perhaps not on a grand scale because of habitat loss, but maybe in smaller areas with good habitat. In a recent Facebook post on the N.C. Field Trial Association’s wall, a poster commented on “moving” 18 coveys of quail in one day on the Sandhills Game Lands field trial area near the town of Hoffman.

It would be wonderful if, indeed, quail do make a comeback in North Carolina. Until they do, I’ll continue to chase multiple species with my versatile German shorthair. And make an occasional trip to the Midwest.