"The shoulder seasons," to many this means spring and fall. However, to hunters there is truly only one shoulder season… splendid, short autumn.
Most hunters I know do not hunt only upland birds or waterfowl, admittedly many of us regularly pursue elk, deer, bears and sundry other big game species on top of our passion for wing and shot. While these other pursuits find us tackling mountains or scaling trees and bring us hours of pleasure we yearn for whistling wings, a shotgun and a dog. It is this “shoulder season” that I am talking about, the season between big game and wingshooting.
Here in the West a lot of our big game hunting occurs in the months of September and October. While in many parts of the world these are peak months for shotgunning; early Canada geese gliding into a winter wheat field on a muggy September morning, rocketing teal over a still green marsh, flitting doves seeking waste grain as the gloaming burns down the western sky and of course those woodcock and ruffed grouse of the great northwoods. All of these inspire memories of hunts past with comrades of both the human and canine varieties. While I know that some of you are asking, “what about blue grouse in the Rockies, sage grouse or sharptail on the open prairies and coveys of huns in oceans of wheat stubble…” I know, I know, all grand sport and each worthy of weeks of devoted chase. However, for many of us these things fill the gaps between elk and deer hunts during the formative months of autumn. Thus the true “shoulder season,” that magic time when the air is turning brisk, most of the fall splendor is scattered on the mantle of the earth and the first big flights of migrators are just beginning to filter out of the north country.
For some these events coincide with other interests such as the Whitetail rut and the venerable “deer camp.” It is for you that the “in between” is coming to a close and I hope that your wingshooting of the weeks past has brought to each of you new memories and more than a few birds. However, here at Wingmen it is the here and now that finds us switching gears.
It is this period when decoy rigs receive a final going over; shotguns emerge from cabinets and safes, vests and blind bags replace backpacks and spotting scopes and anticipation of what is to come in the weeks and months ahead attains a fever pitch.
Many of us here at Wingmen are rut worn as bull elk by this time of year and look ahead to mornings over decoys, sipping black coffee, scanning cloud scudded skies with amped up dogs and laid back conversation as gears shift and a new period of the hunt begins to unfold.
We have talked many times of the unexpected and oft ignored pressure that big game seasons hide and we all find little of this in the refuge that is wingshooting. Whether it be cupped up mallards in a river side-channel or raucous cackling roosters exploding from frostbitten coverts we look forward to the weeks between Halloween and the New Year as a time to recharge our batteries, share stories with friends and of course collect a few birds.
I for one would have it no other way. There is something in a change of hunting venue that perfectly mirrors the all too short months when our passions are played out on a natural stage. Just as one set of challenges reaches either accomplishment or stagnation another takes its place. We transition as the foliage of autumn to another front; mountains to plains, forests to streams, each have a siren song and each its rewards, both tangible and ethereal. It is the moments in between as we look forward that are perhaps what make hunting at once so alluring and consuming.
As I set aside the bow and return the rifle to the rack, I pick up a shotgun, grab a box of shells and whistle my dog to heel as I set my gaze upon other adventures. So it is with “shoulder seasons,” each is too brief and each carries with it its own set of experiences to be cherished and once past brought back into the glimmer of a winter’s fire to be relived and relished once more.
Speaking of memories for the fireside, watch the video above to join Wingmen on one of our favorite hunts from last season.