Beginner’s Guide To Upland Hunting – Part 3: Scouting and Preparation

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By August and September, we are only a couple months away from Upland Hunting season. By now, we established that you want to be an Upland Hunter and we have gone over some of the gear you might need (see Part 1 & Part 2). Hopefully, over the past few months, you began to stockpile ammo and maybe even purchased a new shotgun! You may have been antsy throughout summer, wondering what you could do during the anticipation before opening day.

Prepare.

Opening day will be here sooner than you think! Chasing birds through the timber and the hills until sundown sounds great and all, but certain things need to be done to make your hunt enjoyable and successful. Are you in shape physically? Have you dusted off the shotgun and taken it to the range? Do you have all the gear you need? What about your license? Do you even know where to hunt? Do you even know if birds will be there? ARE YOU READY???

Well, as always, I am here to help! Read along and I will cover some important steps and factors that should be done or considered before any season starts!

Scouting

Most of us get into some type of hunting by having someone introducing you into it. I grew up deer hunting, but I was completely oblivious to upland hunting until much later in my life. Those of you that have any type of hunting background already know that scouting is an integral part of a successful hunt. Those of you who may be completely new to hunting have an opportunity of taking your first few steps into this lifestyle and getting into some coveys! You’re going to love this journey! I’m excited for you… I praise you, but would also like to warn you, especially if you have zero outdoors experience… get some first aid education, maybe even a outdoors navigation course at REI, or take someone with you the first time around! It took me a few years to learn how to navigate the wilderness on my own. Safety first!

Better yet… invite a salty ol’ veteran hunter on a scouting trip or ask if you can go along with them on their scouting own excursion. Most hunters (including myself) guard their hunting grounds with ferocity. I will tell you now… don’t ever ask a hunter where they specifically hunt and expect them to spill the beans. You haven’t earned it. You did not put in the time or the gas money. Many seasoned hunters would love to take you along with them scouting, however, you need to prove yourself and your passion. Show them that you are dedicated and not just trying to be a lazy hunter sniffing out spots to hunt. Get to know this veteran. Get up early with them. Plan where to scout. Learn the in’s and out’s. Help by buying gas or picking up lunch. You just might make a lifelong friend and hunting partner. You may even get to hunt those secret spots. So be sure to nice and courteous. These guys and gals are invaluable assets to your new upland hunting career.

Some upland hunting seminars area available to newbies. Check your local Bass Pro Shop or Cabela’s for dates. These often cost a minimal fee and provide you with tips and locations of where water guzzlers are.

Join your local Quail Forever Chapter (or other Upland bird related conservation groups) and get to know some of the people there. Again, these ol’ veterans can sniff out lazy hunters who are just trying to pry away secret hunting spots. Most will stay tight lipped until you can prove yourself. Become a full-fledged member. Volunteer. Head out to some of the habitat and guzzler restoration projects and soon you will find yourself rubbing elbows with some upland hunting masters! Quail intel is bound to come! You may even find some guys that are willing to let you hunt over their dogs (if you are into that kind of thing)….

For the rest of you loners (like me) … you are gonna have to earn it on your own. Sweat. Blood. Tears. Gas.

First thing is first. Check your states hunting regulations. Most of these tell you what kind of birds are around your area and where to find them. That’s a great first start. Using the internet or social media is also a great way to get pointed to the right direction if you do not have a mentor, but keep in mind that most people are not going to tell you exactly where to go. Aside from that… any leads or information you might find, just remember it’s on the internet, where literally millions of people congregate for information! Unless you are desperate and want to risk crowded hunting grounds, I would avoid hunting these areas. Use it for general information. There are plenty of wide open public land to hunt birds, especially out west!

Your local BLM office should have plenty of maps where you can hunt and you can also buy them online. Look for hunting/shooting maps at sporting goods stores. These will tell you specifically where you can hunt and shoot and other limitations. I also pick up a few National Forest road maps to find long lost truck trails that lead out further.

As you study these maps, you might also want to introduce some technology into your pre-scouting. I use a combination of Google Maps and Google Earth to get good ideas of the landscape. I can identify water sources and even habitat that birds might use.

Once you identify an area you may be interested in hunting, it’s time to go test your theory. It is vital you give yourself enough time to scout these areas well before the season begins. So, give yourself plenty of time. I personally believe that scouting too early in the year will not give you the results you always want when hunting season begins. Most birds have seasonal ranges, even in arid habitats. The prime time to scout is in August and September (even early October if your season starts a little later). Quail begin to start congregating into larger coveys by the end of summer. Finding birds closer to the season usually means you will find them again, right where you left them just in time for the season, especially if water and food is near.

People are going to think you are crazy… but bring out some binoculars or a spotting scope. The name of the game is to identify if birds are in the area. It helps to physically see them in their natural habitat and you may learn a thing or two about their behavior. Glassing for quail also serves another purpose. These are wild and suspicious birds. Tromping around and spooking the birds may make them super weary by the time you are ready to hunt or may outright scare them over to the next county. Keep your distance.

Understanding what quail or other upland birds need to survive is important to the scouting process. Begin to identify what your quarry considers ideal habitat and food. Do some research. What do they use for cover? Where do they roost? Etc. Where I hunt quail, I know they love juniper berries and other plants that produce seeds or green leaves. Ant mounds also make good fast food joints for quail. I look for areas below foothills that our sandy and offer dense scrub brush for predator evasion. Try to identify roost areas by scouting early before the sun comes up, but, again, be sure to not spook them too much. Like turkeys, quail and other upland birds have one or a few dedicated areas that they roost in. They will return there throughout the season, in most cases, unless they are too pressured.

Listen for quail calls (other upland birds have their own distinct calls, so research!). Their assembly call sounds like “Chi-caa! Chi-caa-goo! Chi-caa-goo”! It is one of the most iconic sounds of the west! Depending on your state, it may be illegal outside of hunting season, but if not, try a quail call to locate birds.

If you are able and have the time, try to scout the area you plan to hunt at least a couple of times before the season starts, just to be sure the birds are holding.

I personally do not like hunting around water sources (some regulations even make this practice illegal, or there are limitations on how long you can hunt an area that has a water source… check your regs). I like to identify where these areas are for my FYI, so I know what direction birds might travel to and from throughout the day when the season starts.

Another tool that tech-savvy hunters might want to consider is onX Maps. It utilizes many of the informational tools and maps mentioned above in one app for your phone. You can save maps for offline usage in the event you have no mobile signal. Mark waypoints and points of interest. If you already have a GPS, they also sell their map-cards at some sporting goods stores. Great tool! I still use a combination of physical maps just in case, however, because batteries do run out!

*Note: The further you walk away from the roads and the more miles you put in the better, says I. Stay within your comfort level, however, and be sure you are comfortable navigating the terrain or you have a buddy with you, especially you beginners. If you are willing to get furthest from the roads (where most lazy hunters will stay within a mile of) you are more likely to bump into more birds that some hunters are unwilling to hike and work for. “Low hanging fruit” is great, but there is also a lot more competition there. Work for it. You will be much more satisfied with your results!

 

Get into “Hunting Shape”

I like tacos. I like pizza. I like nachos. I also partake in a cheeseburger or two. I also do not work out as much as I probably should and those bush pants are feeling (filling) a little tight just right before the season. If you are like me, you need to start kicking things into high gear… like now!

Even those of you who are diligent enough to always be in tip-top shape (or perhaps you have not discovered GREAT tacos… come see me!) can still benefit from ramping up your work out regiments!

Now, I do not claim to be a nutritionist or even a health guru (clearly!), but as a former Junior High and High School Wrestler and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, I feel I might know a thing or two about getting ready for competition (and cutting a little weight)! First thing is first! Cut out the junk food! Eat cleaner. Try to stay away from pastas, bread, sugar, and yes…. even beer! That’s hard. I know. You are speaking to the choir! But, I promise you… after a hard-earned opening day, you can throw up your feet, we will crack open a beer together, slap each other on the back… and heck, I will even share one of my infamous camp style Papas y Chorizo burritos with you… it will be worth it! In the meantime… eat lots of lean meats like chicken and fish and fresh vegetables and nuts! Modify as necessary, but don’t give into the junk food!

A focus on cardio and stamina is a must. Do not underestimate these birds or the terrain. They will have you going up and down hills and running, especially if you are after western birds! Happens every year and every year I wished that I would have put in a little more work! Running is a good option. I hate running, so hiking or even walking briskly with a full backpack on or pushing a stroller with a 20-odd pound toddler in it will suffice. Whatever you do… push yourself! Get that heart-rate going! Sweat! Cardio at the minimum should be done at least twice a week… but push yourself to do more if you can. Use that gym membership if you have it and go to town on the treadmill or on that stationary bike!

I have never been big fan of weights. You may have a regiment of your own that incorporates them… GREAT! Go on with your bad self and pump some iron! Shoulder and arm strength fatigue may occur after a long day in the filed carrying an 9-pound shotgun and gear-filled vest. I personally focus on plank walk-outs and push-ups for my upper body and over-head presses with a light weight/high rep (kettlebells work great for this work out).

Leg work is often overlooked. If you want to avoid having trembling legs halfway up a hill, you would be wise to add some leg work outs to your upland hunting preparation. I keep it simple and do a good number of squats and lunges. This build a lot of those bending and kneeling muscles you might encounter on those hills! There are several versions of these exercises, so find the one that is best for you. YouTube is great source for finding some great workout ideas.

Ideally, you want to give yourself anywhere from 6-8 weeks for your body to accept the changes in your diet and activity and to see results!

Range Time

Well, here is a fun part of the preparation phase! Who doesn’t like to shoot? Now I am not talking about taking a bunch of watermelons to the range and shooting them to smithereens! I am talking about sporting clays or any other variation of clay shooting sports. Sporting clays, in general, mimics live bird shooting. I prefer this type of shooting… because it keeps you sharp and prepares you for some likely wild bird scenarios! You are exercising your senses and building muscle memory. The more you shoot, the better you will be at shooting the target you intend to shoot.

Not all of us have the time to head to the field every weekend. Not an issue. At minimum, have at least one refresher course to knock the dust off your bead sight and to get yourself used to the feel of your shotgun’s weight and recoil.

Practice mounting your shotgun often. I was given some advice that I feel has improved my overall shooting. Try to mount your shotgun and aim it in one smooth motion. You can even practice this at home, being sure that your shotgun is unloaded and pointing it in safe directions, of course!

Check Your Gear

In our last segment, we went over what kind of gear you will need for your upland hunt. By now you should have everything, or be close to having everything. Don’t wait to the last minute. It would be a great idea to check your gear and ensure it fits or works properly, if you have not done so already. Check for wear on your clothes and boots. Ensure items like your vest, jacket and pants are waterproofed, if necessary. Anything that needs to be replaced should happen soon!

Make sure you have enough of everything like batteries, ammo and socks. Those are very important items that get overlooked!

Buy a License

Did you forget something? Hopefully by now, you are a fully legal hunter and already took your hunter safety course. If not, what the heck are you waiting for???

Once that is done, go out and buy your hunting license! Walmart, Bass Pro, Big 5 all are major license agents. Make sure that you purchase any necessary upland game stamps. Here in California, it is an additional cost.

Now that you have your license, stick it in your wallet and do not remove it until the season ends!

Planning Your Hunt

At this point, you should start planning the specifics of your hunt. You did some scouting and found some birds or at least some signs that birds are in the area. Your gear is tip-top and now you have your license. You are getting into hunting shape and you are also practicing at the range.

If you are hunting with anyone, be sure to be on the same page about times and dates. Nothing is more frustrating than waiting around for someone to show up at your meeting spot on opening day and everyone else is already out hunting. Verify and re-verify! Make them commit. Be clear about expectations.

Be 100% sure what areas you will hunt. Give yourself an alternative location just in case the first one is a bust, but I always urge people to at least hunt their area a few times in the day before calling it quits. Be familiar with the areas as much as you can. Stick to your plan. Last minute and rash decisions lead to frustration.

If you are camping out and staying out a few days, ensure that you are prepared to have enough food and water and appropriate clothing and shelter (sleeping in your vehicle or tent, etc). Know what days you plan to be out and let your work and family members know ahead of time.

I always leave a note with my wife that provides info about where I am hunting, for how long and when to consider me overdue. I also add information for the nearest ranger station and law enforcement, just in case. It is a good idea that you do the same. As you research and scout, many of the maps have this information or you can find it online. Provide basic info about where you will be hunting and any alternative sights you may go to. Do not deviate from your plan unless you can let someone know.

Make a List… Check it Twice!

Lastly, it is a good idea to make a list of all your equipment and gear. This list should be used to check off equipment as you load it up or stage it on or before opening day. It will save you a hassle! A cautionary tale: This past Spring, I headed out on a turkey hunt and loaded all my gear. List? “I don’t need no stinking list”! 3 hours away from my home and civilization, setting up camp, is when I realized that I forgot my sleeping bag and blankets. It was an unusually cold Spring day… the night, even colder! I spent the night in 38-degree weather freezing my butt off. Yep. I won’t ever think I am above having a check list, again. Ever.

As you begin to compile your list, you may find that you forgot something crucial, so these lists work great in that way too!

 

Are you excited? We are almost there! Just a few more weeks away! If there are any questions you might have on topics regarding preparing for your hunt that I may have missed, please feel free to leave me a comment or shoot us an e-mail at uplandjitsu@gmail.com, I love helping out people who are new to the Art of Upland Hunting!

 

God Bless and Happy Hunting!

-JR

 

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