In childhood, my whole family hunted deer, grouse, squirrel and hare. My father concentrated on deer and dabbled with grouse and hare, and my mother chased deer and squirrel, the latter since we had oak stands by home to attract these gray rodents. Naturally, those critters interested me.

In my preteens, I hunted all four, particularly rabbits and squirrels, but in my teens and early 20s, ducks struck me as an exotic target. Thoughts of sitting in predawn duck blinds, owning a Labrador retriever, shooting a fancy over-and-under shotgun and setting decoys appealed to me big time. The shotgun displays in “Shooter’s Bible” filled me with ideas for adulthood, and those duck-hunting thoughts continued into my 20s.

So, after graduating from college, I bought a Winchester Model 101 12 gauge and chocolate Labrador retriever. Soon, warm camouflage clothing, quality decoys and a wooden duck call added to my commitment to the sport, and my duck-hunting life hit full-gear.

Many of my acquaintances hunted waterfowl, but one huge problem stopped me from becoming an avid waterfowler for life. I loved everything about duck hunting but eating the damned things, and I’ll eat most any food — not fussy at all. That dislike was a huge problem.

What does a duck hunter do with dead ducks if they made him gag?

My 12 gauge had 26-inch barrels bored improved cylinder and modified for shooting over decoys, a brief waterfowl shooting philosophy at the time, a fortuitous choice. This combination also proved perfect for upland birds, perfect for grouse, woodcock, pheasant and waterfowl. As we said then, “Yahoo!”

Labs are flushing dogs as opposed to pointing ones, and my Lab, an intelligent female, could kick up any upland bird whether it was close to the gun or running ahead. More than once, a bird ran well beyond the Lab, and she’d rush ahead of the wide-ranging target and flush it back toward me.

The Lab’s name was “Chatham” — short for “Lady Chatterly.” This wonderful dog could retrieve anything Maine offered — ducks, geese, grouse, pheasant, woodcock, rail and snipe, but she lacked the class of a flushing breed like a springer spaniel or English springer. However, Labs are born and bred for retrieving a downed bird, so she did it with panache.

Like most dogs, she knew more about bird-hunting than I did, reminding me of a quick story. Once, in a steep, abandoned field with dense thickets on top, she ran ahead of me and didn’t kick up a bird in the tangles. On the way back, she swung into a tiny poplar stand with low grass beneath them. I assumed a bird on the ground would be clearly visible and saw none.

I hollered for her to come to me to send her to another hillside thicket, but she stuck in the open poplars. I was young then and howled for her to come.

She stuck with the poplars, though, a good thing. A woodcock materialized from the ankle-high grass and flew by me — an easy shot.

When the Lab was 2-years-old, I bought an orange-Belton English setter, a small dog with a Rebel Jacket pedigree out of Michigan, and a Winchester Model 101 20-gauge over-and-under with Skeet 1 and Skeet 2 barrels — a perfect upland-bird shotgun for Maine.

Even with that setup, I still used the 12 gauge and Lab nearly half the time. Sure, the 20 gauge and setter were perfect for the job, but the other choices got it done, and the heavier 12 mounted better for me — just a whim.

As I said, though, one problem with waterfowl hunting flummoxed me.

I disliked them, and yes, I know how to cook game and authored a cookbook — a great indication that I grew up cooking and eating critters. However, waterfowl nauseated me, although Canada goose was okay.

On the other hand, my favorite food of all time was ruffed grouse — the perfect main dish. That was reason enough to stick with the uplands and ruffed grouse, the most storied upland bird on the continent.

The uplands have another plus easy to like, too, particularly for an ex-high-school English teacher and writer. The sport has produced excellent, books — the perfect complement to an evening after a day in Maine covers.

The following make a good start to a library — “The Upland Shooting Life” by George Bird Evans, “The Wind on Your Cheek” by William Schaldach, “A Hunter’s Road” by Jim Fergus, “The Corey Ford Treasury” by Corey Ford, “Grouse and Grouse Hunting” by Frank Woolner and “Gun Dogs and Bird Guns,” “The Part I Remember” and “Hunting Upland Birds” by Charles Waterman.

I cannot leave this topic without touching upon a topic that intrigues me. For 25 years, I have assigned outdoor magazine articles to writers on a variety of topics and have no problems getting upland-bird dog, fly-fishing and deer-hunting pieces, but hound stories, bear hunting, ice-fishing, snowmobiling and ATVing often take serious begging.

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