Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of living anywhere near prime upland ground and am relegated to taking one or two five-day trips, and as many long weekends as I can go without getting fired or kicked out of the house. Working a nine-to-five job is really the kicker, and only having two days to work with on a trip. After doing this for many years, I’ve learned a thing or two about maximizing time spent in the field and ways to make the long drive more bearable.
Scheduling the Hunt
Time is the number-one limiting factor for my hunts, and the same can be said for many others. I don’t have children, but it’s no secret that the balance between fun, work, and family becomes a three-way seesaw, with the goal of achieving equilibrium being almost impossible. This leads to why my travels are often kamikaze three-day trips, keeping my wife and the boss man happy. This approach isn’t for the faint of heart, and you will never show up back at the office saying, “I feel so rested from my vacation.” As a matter of fact, I’ve rolled into the office parking lot from more than one hunting trip at 6 a.m. on a Monday morning, taking a two-hour nap in the backseat, and rolling out of the truck into another work week.
Here’s the basic gist of what I’ll do on a three-day trip to Kansas, which takes me about 14 hours of chasing the white line:Thursday 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. : Leave the houseFriday 3 a.m. – 7 a.m. : Arrive at hunting groundsFriday-Sunday 10 a.m. : HuntSunday 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. : Depart for homeMonday 1 a.m. – 3 a.m. : Arrive home
Roughly 30 hours of travel to hunt about 25 hours. This math ends up looking a lot better if you’re closer to striking distance of your destination. In the words of Waylon Jennings, “I’ve always been crazy, but it keeps me from going insane!”
If this sounds like way too much travel, a great way to extend your time is using key holidays in the fall. One of my favorite, and much more “sane” trips, uses the short week of Thanksgiving. Spending time with family over the holidays is important, and odds are you’d be met with a little resistance if you flipped the bird to the in-laws.
I’ll head out of town Friday night the week before Thanksgiving, taking off work the following Monday through Wednesday, which gives me 4.5 days of hunting. Normally, Wednesday morning includes a quick half-day hunt before returning just in time to eat a little turkey and nod off watching football. Totally acceptable…right?
Life on the Highway
One of the most daunting trips was a solo Arizona quail adventure back in 2019. I laid the hammer down after a full day at the salt mine, drove 22 hours, and was able to chase Mearns the next afternoon. After making that trip, I really don’t suggest taking my approach. But I’ve gained some valuable insight on the best ways to do it, after making a myriad of mistakes.
The buddy system is by far the best way to tackle my approach to travel. That solo drive to Arizona was brutal, and the mental fatigue caught up with me around Day Four. However, with a friend riding shotgun, you’ll end up arriving far less “crispy.”
What good are two people dog-tired upon arrival? It’s the responsibility of the passenger to get enough sleep to take over the driving duties when the driver gets cross-eyed. I’m not advocating you drive to the point of nodding off and playing bumper cars with the rumble strips, but we’re adults, and you know when you’re too tired to be a safe driver. Pull off at a gas station, get your caffeine fix, and switch up with your rested buddy. Instead of both people getting no sleep, each person gets at least a half-night’s rest. It not only saves a ton of time, but also saves you the cost of a hotel room for two hours of sleep. I’ve hit the point on several solo trips where exhaustion is inevitable, and you need to sleep. In this situation, just pull over in a Walmart or truck stop parking lot and set a phone timer for an hour to give you a little boost to keep pounding the pavement.
Because you have such a short time to hunt, it’s also important that you don’t dilly dally. Here are a few tips to save time when you’re on the road:
Only stop when you need gas. If you ever watch your GPS on a long road trip, it’s hard to get to your destination before the original ETA. It would kill your progress if you had to stop every time you needed to hit the restroom, grab a snack, and let the dogs out. Combine these stops together, and you will get to your destination much faster.
The drive-thru is also your friend! Sitting down and eating a meal means less time you’re in the field. For every hour spent on the highway, I can save about five minutes on the GPS, and for every gas stop, I lose 10 to 15 minutes. If you end up stopping seven different times, you’ve just added almost two hours to your trip.
Traveling with dogs is another aspect that requires planning. Whether it be kennels in the back of the truck, a dog trailer, or a backseat full of hounds, it’s important to have a plan. Even though my dogs primarily ride in the backseat, I always have kennels back there. Behind the driver’s seat there’s a bowl, a gallon of water, and leashes. I pick my gas stops based on having a good area to let the dogs relieve themselves. Although, it was quite interesting traveling through West Texas looking for an area with grass. We ended up settling on a rocky cactus flat. I also don’t feed the dogs within a couple hours of leaving, opting to feed them four to five hours before we reach our destination and start hunting.
For many, this may seem like a terrible way to travel, but it’s by far the most efficient. Just keep thinking about that first covey rise, or a big rooster blowing up in your face—it’ll give you some motivation!
Where to Go?
Let’s say you’re from the Great Lakes region and want to take your first trip to South Dakota for an epic DIY pheasant hunt. Where do you even begin? First, one of the best resources to get in the right area is Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s Hunting Forecasts. They compile data for 23 states on the pheasant side, and 29 states for the quail forecast, and it’s a great tool to get you into the right region within a state. There are so many variables that can alter bird numbers, and just because your next-door neighbor had a great hunt in an area five years ago doesn’t mean the area could be almost devoid of birds this season. Next, it’s time to get on the onX Hunt app (subscription required) and start finding large chunks of public land, or areas with a higher density of public land within the areas you’ve identified.
Once I’ve found areas that look birdy from above, I’ll start breaking down my days in detail, so I’ll have a starting plan. I mark access points and likely bird haunts on my app, and then label them something like Day1A, Day1B, Day1C. I’ll also mark areas with different types of cover before I leave, because if my initial strategy doesn’t work out, I’ll have a fallback plan and won’t waste valuable time scratching my head looking for spots. The last thing is, when arriving at a spot, try to drive around the piece of land to get a feel if it will hold birds. The last thing I want to do is walk around a giant tract of public land for a half day, only to realize there’s nothing around.
If I walk two to three diverse, birdy looking spots in the first day and am not able to locate many birds, I’ll make a 40- to 50-mile jump to a new area in hopes of finding greener pastures.
Sleeping like a Baby
What’s the best way to go for finding a place to rest your head? I’ve found the way to go is finding some borderline “no-tell” motel in smaller towns near the hunting grounds. I prefer this over camping for several reasons. The first is the amount of gear to camp for two people is just too much to fit in a short-bed truck with a topper that’s already loaded with hunting gear and two or three dogs. I’ve done it before, but unless you’re hyper-organized, it can be too much. The biggest reason I opt for a local motel is because I’ll be able to sleep in a warm bed and take a hot shower, so I can wake up and be ready to rock.
Gear & Organization
Having the right gear and keeping it organized is a game-changer for these Blitzkrieg trips. There are a few pieces of equipment that would be hard to live without. The first is a camper top, or topper, for your pickup. You’re able to keep the dogs and all your gear out of the elements, as well as greatly expand your storage area. Having an SUV also works fantastic—well, at least until your dog gets nailed by a skunk.
The second game-changer is a truck-bed organizer such as the DECKED system. These drawers do come with a hefty price tag, so I opted to go the DIY route and saved some serious coin with about the same functionality. It has compartments for shotguns, ammo, vests, boots, dog gear, and tools, making it easy to keep everything in place. A small propane camp stove is another great and small addition to the arsenal, and holy smokes is a hot ham-and-cheese sandwich a morale booster after a tough morning in the field.
There are a few things that will ruin a trip in a hurry—either leaving you with an empty wallet, or late for work on Monday morning.
Vehicle maintenance is so important, and that fact cannot be understated. The severe mental exhaustion caused by straining your ears wondering, “Has the engine always sounded like that?” or “Is it getting ready to blow?” is not worth it.
I had a reliable, decked-out hunting truck that would get me from Points A to B and back without a second thought. That was until she met her demise at 180,000 miles via a deer to the grille on the way back from a Minnesota grouse hunt one late-October morning. I finally found the replacement truck I was looking for: A diesel with 25,000 miles, almost brand new! With just 24 hours to spare before taking off on our annual Thanksgiving Kansas trip, I was happy it all worked out. A check-engine light just outside of Wichita was the first indication something was awry, and when I rolled into Hays, Kansas, temps had dipped into the teens, and nothing but cold air was rolling out of the vents. After spending much of the next morning at the dealership, I was sent off with four gallons of coolant and a warranty claim. I was so distracted by the truck, worrying about the next time it was going to head into “limp mode,” that it was hard to enjoy the trip. Be sure to give your four-wheeled friend a little love, because the last place you want her to exact her revenge is on some Midwest dirt road.
I love nothing more than following my dogs through the Midwest’s tall grass prairies. This travel system gives me the most possible time in the field, while still being able to show up for work on Monday morning. Hey, they say showing up is half the battle. They never said what kind of condition you’d have to be in!