Posts Tagged ‘Ft. Pierre Grasslands’

A B.S. in Bird Hunting

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

PF's Rick Young poses with a pair of Ft. Pierre Grasslands greater prairie chickens

“How did I earn my bird hunting Bachelor of Science degree and what would I have to study to attain my Master’s?”

That’s the question I asked myself last weekend while trying to keep up with fellow co-worker Rick Young as he charged across South Dakota’s Fort Pierre Grasslands in search of greater prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse.  Clearly Rick, Pheasants Forever’s V.P. of Field Operations, a biologist by trade, and one of the organization’s longest tenured employees, had his Ph.D. in bird hunting. 

Here’s how I matriculated to Bird Hunting University:


Elementary School – Parents with Bird Brains

I grew up in a family of hunters.  Mom hunted, dad hunted, grandparents hunted; you get the picture.  After I got home from school, I was not only allowed to venture off into the woods, I was encouraged.  My folks taught me to respect firearms and the wildlife I’d killed using my shotgun, bow, and .22.  We celebrated our take and enjoyed the meals of wild game provided.  My folks didn’t teach me the most important tips or tactics of hunting.  Rather, they taught me lessons far more important that cemented the foundation upon which I stand as a hunter today; ethics, respect, and love of the chase.


High School – The Bird Hunting Doctor

I believe mentors can take many forms.  I’ve been lucky enough to have a bunch of bird hunting mentors; my dad, my uncle Bruce, and my Grandpa Maurer all taught me valuable lessons in bird hunting.  However, the person that taught me the most about bird hunting is Rick Young.  Believe it or not, until this past weekend, I’d only spent a one-week hunting trip with Rick.  During my first fall at Pheasants Forever (2003), Rick invited me on his annual North Dakota hunting trip.  We hunted ducks in the morning and walked hard for sharpies, Huns and roosters through the afternoon hours.  In those seven days, I learned more about the “hows” and “whys” of bird hunting than my entire 29 years of life prior.  I think Rick’s philosophy comes down to the basic principle that you get what you put into it.  Rick wakes up earlier, walks farther, hunts longer, thinks smarter, shoots with more confidence, and succeeds more often than any other bird hunter I’ve ever known. 


College – Follow the Dog

No matter how good or how many mentors you have, you’ll never be able to graduate from bird hunting university until you train and hunt behind your own dog.  I’ve learned more about bird hunting from my pup’s tail than any singular person could ever teach me.  Her body language is equivalent to a fish finder fully loaded with sonar and GPS.  I know that sounds like a hyperbolic statement.  I proclaim to you, “It is not!”  You simply cannot graduate from Bird Hunting University cheating off the test of another’s dog. 


Graduate School – Be the Bird

Bird hunters that are biologists typically have an unfair advantage when it comes to knowing the birds being hunted.  They have spent countless hours studying the texts of ecology, biology, and wildlife sciences.  Thankfully, the rest of us bird hunting students can also earn our Ph. D. by paying closer attention to the habits of our quarry.  The “golden hour” for pheasants going to roost in the evening, focusing on west facing slopes in the evening for sharpies, focusing on east facing slopes in the morning for chickens, locating grit sites for ruffed grouse in the morning; these are the habits I’ve learned after hours studying.  Traveling to hunt birds in different states, under different habitat conditions, and in pursuit of different species also has helped me progress toward my Master’s. 

While I won’t pretend to be a professor capable of teaching a course at Bird Hunting University, I am enjoying my time on campus and recommend taking the six year plan toward graduation.  There’s really no hurry and the college years are indeed the best years of your life.