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Close to Home Covers: How to Optimize Your Season by Hunting Wherever You Live

No matter where you call home, there is an opportunity for you and your dog to get what you both want.

Close to Home Covers: How to Optimize Your Season by Hunting Wherever You Live

Step out of your comfort zone or away from your normal routine to find birds in new places close to home. (Photo By: Michael L. Neiduski)

So many cuss words flew from my mouth that the dog bolted from her slumber on the couch to the safety of her kennel in the other room. My wife and I were sitting on the couch in the makeshift living room in our basement, the rest of the house staged prim and proper for the impending showings, a bright white “For Sale” sign in our suburban Milwaukee front yard.

North Carolina bound in a few months, I sat perusing the Wildlife Resources Commission’s hunting regulations and the expletives started flowing as soon as I read it, “No hunting on Game Lands on Sundays.” It was not a pretty sight. I knew about the lower bird populations, but losing that extra day was salt in the wound. 

I was a mess in the beginning, and it certainly wasn’t what I had grown accustomed to, but we learned and we grew. We tried new things, and you can, too. That was four years ago, and I can happily report that my dogs and I ultimately survived. One could even make the argument that we get out hunting now even more than we did when we lived in Missouri or Wisconsin.

Life brings all sorts of twists and turns, be it college graduation or a job relocation. Let’s face it, there is way more space in this country without great bird hunting that there is with it. But all is not lost. Get a little creative and think outside the box. There’s more opportunity than you might think. 


Whether you are moving to a new area, stuck in a bird hunting rut, or just looking to make the most of this year’s hunting season, here are a few suggestions to maximize your efforts.

hunter holding an American woodcock
You may not always be able to chase your top choice quarry, but both you and your dog will benefit from new pursuits. (Photo By: Michael L. Neiduski)

Keep an Open Mind

First and foremost, keep an open mind. What’s new and different about where you live? What else can you try that maybe you haven’t thought of before? Find something and start.  

I took the first thing I could out of the gate when I moved south: dove season. It’s the first to open, and a well-established regional staple. 

I love duck hunting, the dog work in particular. It took me a bit to realize this but chasing doves through lengthy seasons thanks to long splits mimics the chase for waterfowl more than I gave it credit. I worked the dog on the same manners; sitting at heel, staying steady to shot and fall, and taking casting directions when looking for a downed bird. 


pointing dog holding a wood duck
Waterfowl, snipe, and other birds are an often-overlooked opportunity in many areas. (Photo By: Michael L. Neiduski)

It may be hot and sticky, and not cold water and sunrise, but it gets us out there and gets us ready for other pursuits to look forward to down the road. 

A plethora of options exist anywhere you are. Many states offer a September resident goose season in addition to the dove opener, for example. And on the upland front, maybe grouse, woodcock, and quail aren’t in the mix, but what about snipe and rails? 

Lastly, maybe the answer is to join your local preserve or hunt club. It may not be the wild bird experience we’re all after, but in today’s world, it is often the most accessible. And let’s be honest, your dog doesn’t care one bit, they’re just happy to be afield with you. 

Get Involved

First, it’s important to note, there is no silver bullet to unlocking gates and finding honey holes in a new area. It takes hard work. But there is a way to kill two birds with one stone: get involved. 

Reach out to your local Pheasants Forever, Ruffed Grouse Society, or Ducks Unlimited chapter or connect with a local dog training club, like a North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA) chapter in your area. Once connected, show up and help out. 

upland bird hunters with dogs
Joining a conservation organization or a local dog club can lead to locating new hunting partners and fellow DIY dog trainers. (Photo By: Michael L. Neiduski)

Those local groups are always looking for helping hands. It could mean serving on the upcoming banquet committee or as simple as being the bird planter at an upcoming test or trial. Make the connections and ask where you can jump in. 

It’s how I came to grouse hunting. Sitting on the tailgate after a NAVHDA summer training day, a member asked me if I’d ever experienced grouse and woodcock over a dog. I hadn’t. “You should,” he said, and laid out an invitation to bird camp with a few other chapter members.

I’m writing this from a hotel room while heading north towards the eighth iteration of that bird camp, all because I showed up eager and willing to lend a hand. Being the new person in town and demonstrating your willingness to work goes a long way toward securing invitations from those more established in the local hunting scene. 

Explore

Bird hunters are a naturally curious lot, always wondering what’s around the bend, over that hill, or along that fencerow. Moving to a new location affords infinite opportunity to get out and look. Use that to your advantage.

Once I arrived in North Carolina I quickly learned the importance of scouting. With grouse and quail few and far between, and a decent drive to each locale, dialing in likely locations before the season became even more important. Utilizing Google Earth and onX Hunt significantly cuts down on aimless wandering and needless miles. As with bird dog training, develop a plan and work the plan.

Take advantage of the off-season and get out there, burn the boot leather early, take notes, and drop pins. Where legal and appropriate, bring the dog with you—you’ll both appreciate the exercise and introduction to likely cover.

dog in the uplands
You never know when you might just stumble on the next honey hole while exploring new covers in your new location. (Photo By: Michael L. Neiduski)

It’s easy to start with the lay-ups, the places everyone knows or mentions on Facebook bird hunting groups, but you’ll be better off pushing past them. Find the spots that are out of the way, off the beaten path, or take that bit of extra effort to reach. Before you know it, you’ll have your own list of go-to’s.

In your first season in your new surroundings, strongly consider the 2-1 rule: hunt two new spots to every one you’re familiar with. You will quickly grow your list of opportunities and weed out several along the way. Continue to follow this rule as you become more established in the area, too. There can never be enough spots in the rolodex. 

Manage Expectations

Moving from Wisconsin to North Carolina was an eye-opener for bird hunting. The first change was managing the colossal disappointment that I no longer had wild pheasants within 45 minutes of my house or access to my buddy’s grouse camp in under three hours. But as time went on, it served me well to keep an open mind and alter my perspective. 

Instead of expecting 20 to 30 flush days for grouse in the mountains of western North Carolina, my dogs and I hit the mountains with the hope for a flush or two, and on a great day, an opportunity to mount the gun and pull the trigger. The shift in my outlook has found me satiated on the tailgate at the end of a long day more than once. Here, it’s an adventure pursuit of encountering one bird instead of seeing how high the flush counter goes. I find myself chasing those singular moments, instead of multitudes. I savor them. Points don’t come often in my southern covers, and I appreciate every one that much more. 

Keeping an open mind extends well beyond bird contacts and spent shells. Close to home covers include more woodcock than quail—a welcome realization as I started a new pup last season—and I spend much more time in the marsh now with my wirehair whose penchant for ducks rivals her desire to crash cattails for pheasants. 

I’ve had several relocations and each one has encouraged me to try new things in new places and pushed me heavily outside my comfort zone. They’ve made me a better bird hunter and a better student of the new environments I called home. If you’re diligent, get involved, explore, and keep an open mind, it will do the same for you, too.

pointing dog hunting
Whether your hunting trip in a new spot ends with a full vest or an empty bag, there is no better time spent afield than with our dogs. (Photo By: Michael L. Neiduski)
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