Wolfe Publishing Group

    Bird hunting travel: a dozen tips I learned so you don't have to

    I've found D-I-Y bird hunting in public-access spots throughout the country: Florida, Georgia, Alabama, New York, Kentucky, Michigan, Illinois, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Iowa, Utah, California, Oklahoma, Nevada, New Mexico, Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Minnesota, Wisconsin. That’s a lot of places to hunt birds ... 25 states ... many more than once and several, dozens of times. It is a daunting list, not just because of the road and air miles invested but because so many of these states are full of wonderful people and places I’d like to visit more often than time and funds allow.

    In all of them, I’ve made new friends while looking for places to hunt birds. I’ve shared truck cabs and wall tents with old friends. My dogs have banked enough windshield time to get their own driver’s license. What have I learned from so many border crossings, time zones and area codes? Here’s the short list:

    - Keep things ship-shape on the vehicle. When you stop for gas, check the oil, diesel exhaust fluid, kick the tires and clean the windshield because next stop, it might be cold or raining.

    Feed dogs on their schedule while looking for places to hunt birds

    - Feed the dogs on schedule. It’s one of the few constants they have on a road trip.

    - Cram in as many warm clothes as you can. Bring extra rain gear for someone else. Carry a bottle of something from Scotland and leave it with your hosts. 

    - Save your back, invest in those fabric fold-up dog kennels for pet-friendly hotels.

    - Call ahead and stop to visit friends along the way, even if you don’t think you have the time. Send thank you notes. 

    - When you stop, water the dogs first. Find off-the-beaten-track places to park so dogs are safe and unstressed. I like high school athletic fields and county fairgrounds. Bring tie-out stakes.

    - Carry water for your dogs and yourself. Refill at every opportunity. Same for your fuel tank; there are a lot of empty spaces on the map. Bring bowls for your dogs.

    - Eat at local joints instead of chains. Be nice to wait staff. You may be gifted with a spot to hunt but don't expect it. Just enjoy the friendliness.

    - Carry a thermos and fill it when you find good coffee. 

    - Buy your groceries and fuel close to your destination – in many communities you are economic development. 

    - Learn a little bit about the place you’re visiting. Pronounce place names correctly. 

    - Visit with kitchen staff at the lodge but don't get in the way.

    - A place for everything: Dog boxes' doors are easy to reach through the canopy window, their water is near the tailgate. Hunting license in vest back-pocket. Dog bowls near dog food or water; ammo packed near guns, shooting glasses in vest. Windshield ice scraper under seat, water bottle in cup holder. Camera always in left-hand lower pocket of vest.

    Admire dogs while looking for places to hunt birds

    - Find something to compliment: your buddy’s dog, a good shot, a well-managed covert, fine booze, a special dinner. 

    - Think positive and see the beauty in all things (a great philosophy of life, by the way).

    - Bring extra batteries and owner’s manuals for everything. And reading glasses so you can figure them out!

    None of this will help you shoot more birds or make your dogs steadier. But in the long run, you will be enriched by the memories you make, the friendships forged. The journey will rise a notch or two on your life list. Whether across the county or the country you will be a better hunter. And person.

    Wolfe Publishing Group