Upland hunting is an American term for a form of bird hunting in which the hunter pursues upland birds including quail, pheasant, grouse, woodcock, prairie chicken, chukar, grey partridge, and others. Upland birds tend to be found on the ground in heavy cover, so hunters generally employ the use of gun dogs to locate and retrieve game. The average group consists of 2-4 hunters with 1-2 dogs. Normally, if there is one dog the owner usually handles the dog while the others focus on shooting.
Depending upon their method of work, some dogs point game and some flush game. When flushed, either by the hunter or the dog, the hunter then attempts to shoot the birds on the wing. This is also known as wingshooting.
Upland hunters use all types of shotguns from break-breach guns to semi-automatics, and .410 bore through 12 gauge. The quintessential shotgun for upland hunting is a double barrel shotgun in a smaller gauge such as a 16, 20 or 28 gauge. Upland guns can be extremely valuable, often commanding many thousands of dollars.
In America (though not in the UK), some states, such as Alabama and Arkansas, require upland hunters to wear blaze orange clothing for safety. They often wear vests to carry game, though there is a recent trend toward more functional technical daypacks specifically designed for the demands of more rigorous upland hunting in remote areas.
Upland hunters work specially trained gun dogs to find game. Spaniels and pointing breeds are used most often, though retrievers are worked with considerable success when hunting pheasant in many areas.
Upland hunters traditionally walk when finding game, though quail hunters in the Southern States often employ hunting buggies or vehicles due to the sparseness of game. Because of the large area that must be covered in order to find bobwhite quail many hunters employ specially designed hunting buggies to haul gear and kennels for fresh dogs. On the other hand, chukar and Hungarian partridge hunters of much of the western U.S. will hunt with one or two dogs on the ground for the duration of the hunt, hiking 8+ miles of steep mountain terrain in a single hunt with well conditioned dogs.
An important component of upland hunting for hunters is their partnership with their canine hunting companion. The breed of dog chosen by a hunter should first and foremost fit the style of hunting of the hunter and then the primary type of upland bird being hunted for the relationship to be successful. A puppy's training may begin when the dog is around 4 months old. Training often involves reinforcement of canine hunting instinct, and some common training tools are: whistles, 6 & 20 ft choke leashes, and shock collars. A puppy can be brought into the field within a year, but dogs reach prime ability at closer to 3 or 4 years old.
Pheasant hunting, the most popular form of upland hunting takes place primarily in open fields which provides cover for birds. Upland birds can be hunted in a wide variety of habitats from deserts to high mountain elevations. This variety of locations is part of what makes upland hunting so popular. Some states such as South Dakota derive a significant portion of their revenue from upland hunters who travel into the state to take advantage of the ideal settings. Numerous pheasant hunting lodges are prevalent throughout South Dakota. Most of them are in the eastern half of the state.
Location is important when deciding the species of upland bird you want to hunt. Upland birds are found throughout the United States and much of the world. Although this sport is most popular, by number of participants, in the United States. There are two different ways that hunters can approach upland hunting. the more challenging way is hunting wild birds. This is done in less populated parts of the country especially the midwest. The second way is hunting farmed birds.
Popular birds by region in the United States:
- Eastern/Northeast: forest grouse
- Southeast: bobwhite quail
- South: bobwhite quail
- Midwest/Prairie: pheasants, prairie grouse
- North Central Tier: forest grouse
- Intermountain West: partridge, sage-grouse, prairie grouse
- West: partridge, quail