The upland season in nearly upon us here in New England, and I'm ready to go. Recent changes in the form of a puppy rather than a ready to go dog assure me that this season will be different, and is sure to be educational. Not a day goes by when I don't think about stepping out onto the frost covered porch of the cabin, morning coffee in hand, brimming with anticipation of what the coverts will show us that day, while dogs stretch their legs, and turn their noses into the cool northern breeze. Oh yeah. I'm ready to go. But I've got to admit that I feel that something has been lost in the off season. In my efforts to prepare my gear, and ready myself on the clay course, I seem to have lost track of my upland tradition.
While inventorying my toy box I picked up on a trend I hadn't noticed growing, and now fear I've haunted the spirit of the hunt. Mind you, when I speak of upland tradition, and the hunt, I very specifically mean Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock hunting. Grand specimens, genetically predisposed to draw tradition respecting gentlemen of the highest caliber into the wildest of setting. This is why the absence of upland tradition troubles me so. If these birds, the kings of the upland have carried on their tradition why should I abandon mine. Where has it gone?
My inventory has forced me to do a head to toe check, searching, and clinging to what tradition I have left. Hopefully some remains. Some might only be misplaced. But some is gone for good. Had I worn my upland tradition out, and needed to replace it I wouldn't feel so bad, but I'm afraid that might not be the case. So let's take a look.
Starting at the top I am pleased to still be in possession of a well broken in blaze orange LL Bean ball cap. You know, the type with the duck brown bill. So I'm okay there. I feel pretty good in my vest too. Simple and comfortable, I get good use out of a duck brown strap vest. Strap vests are nothing new, so I'm still doing okay.
Things get tricky when it comes time to get dressed, though. Flannel shirts, and sharp looking tattersalls have given way to synthetic, technical shirts that breath, dry quickly, and probably have the shelf life of a cockroach. I'm not feeling much tradition in synthetics. To make matters worse, I've acquired a number of synthetic undergarments to be assured my shirts perform as advertised. What will it be like, not experiencing the tradition of soaking cotton with sweat, and suffering the chill of the northern wind as said sweat evaporates from my back?
Gore Tex brush pants? Yup. They've made their way into the toy box, too. I don't care for hunting grouse in the rain, but the morning dew or a bit of snow clinging to the cover have allowed me the pleasure of soaking my jeans, or trousers, even when protected in a pair of bullet proof chaps. I fear a week at camp will not be the same if I don't get to hang a dripping pair of pants over a railing to dry.
Boots have become less of a problem in my mind, but I'm sure there are still a few uplanders who truly believe the only proper footwear that should be worn in a proper covert is a pair of light weight, moc-toe lace ups. I've switched to rubber Wellies. The switch did not happen over night, as I've been wearing Wellies exclusively for some years now. Faced with the loss of other valuable-to-the-experience "traditions" I fear that I might need wet socks to fill the gap. We'll see?
Gun selection has not changed. I still prefer guns with two barrels. If they've got a straight stock I like them even better. My 20 gauge double will no double be my first choice of accessory, and will no doubt raise the reading on the tradition meter. My sleak little 28 won't be too far away either. The thing is, I've got a 12 gauge stack barrel with a pistol grip that I've been shooting rather effectively at skeet. The idea was to warm up the gun a little for it's intended purpose of waterfowling. I fear it may make it's way into the grouse woods. Compounding the matter, as I work on plans which should see me hunting pheasant in Kansas, where the 12 would fit right in, I keep being pestered with the thought of bringing my 12 gauge pump. It's a nice 12, which I shoot well, and have done some damage to waterfowl with. It was a gift from my father, which though I rarely shoot it these days, I cherish. A trip to Kansa with this gun, to shoot big, corn fed, wild Ringnecks might make a fitting tribute. But now I've gotten off track; which gun I shoot in Kansas won't matter, as everyone knows pheasant hunters don't have any upland tradition.