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How to Overcome the Fears of Taking an Upland Road Trip

Make your best-laid plans and set your sights upon the road to success.

How to Overcome the Fears of Taking an Upland Road Trip

Whether it's a limit of easy roosters or a few hard-won ruffs on public land, setting realistic expectations before you start the serious planning makes the whole process easier. (Tony J. Peterson photo)

The problem with hunting trips is that our expectations tend to creep higher and higher, while reality doesn’t change. When it comes to upland excursions, this usually happens in a few different ways.

The first is one of the most obvious and involves our dog biases. We love our dogs for good reason, but that doesn’t make them master quail hunters when they’ve never encountered a wild bobwhite covey in their lives. It doesn’t make them listen well when they are tossed into a gang hunt in South Dakota after only hunting solo with you either.

Beyond our dogs’ real or expected abilities are the biases we carry about ourselves. Good luck finding a man who doesn’t overestimate his physical capabilities (women seem to be much more reasonable and realistic on this front). This won’t be a big issue on a planted bird hunt where limits happen by lunch time, but what about the sharpie death march where you might have to cover eight or ten miles in a day?

These are just a couple of examples of real-world problems that take down the most well-intentioned and planned trips. I also think most of us are aware that they are real possibilities, and that keeps us from going. But if you love to hunt, and you love your bird dogs, you should absolutely take a trip. You just need to think about it and execute it in a way that doesn’t allow for too much frustration and failure.


Sharp-tailed grouse
A lot of hunters dream about road tripping in search of new bird adventures, but many of them never go because the pre-trip planning can be overwhelming. If you break this process down into manageable chunks and cover all of your bases, it won’t seem nearly as daunting. (Tony J. Peterson photo)

Fear of the Unknown

What do you want to get out of a trip? If it’s an easy limit, buy into that and go. If you want to hunt fresh ground, new birds, and spend a week on the road with your dog, then do that. But research where you’ll hunt and build in redundancies.

Too many of us look at a scouting app or an interactive map that shows public land and we think, well that spot looks as good as any. Or, this area has five sections of grassland, there has to be birds there. But are we convinced?

Some hunters spend all of their time on private land, which creates a natural aversion to heading to unknown public ground. As someone who mostly hunts public land for everything from small game to whitetails, that’s an easy one: Get over it. The amount of public land out there with solid game bird populations continues to blow my mind, but it also continually reminds me that those birds don’t usually come easy.

Labrador retriever with ruffed grouse
Loading up your dog and heading out of state is a great idea, but a lot of us will never do it. This is due to a variety of reasons, but mostly involves getting bogged down in the planning stages or not setting clear, realistic expectations for a trip. (Tony J. Peterson photo)

They require the scouting aspect, and they require work once you get there. They also require realistic expectations. I’ve shown up to Nebraska, for example, with the hopes of shooting a few public land roosters. Sometimes, I’ve got three birds in my game bag long before my morning coffee is too cold to drink without grimacing. Other times, I’ve hunted all day and blanked.


This is the unknown, just like when it comes to whether a certain tract of land will hold any birds or not. The mystery is something that can draw us in, or repel us. If you’re worried about not finding birds at a given destination, dedicate more time to pre-trip scouting. Look for enough land so that you could walk for days without running out and make sure to identify different areas of the state or the region with access options. If your go-to spot doesn’t shake out, move on. Go to plan B, or C, or… The more options you give yourself before a trip, the more likely you are to find some action once you get there.

A pile of ring-necked pheasant roosters with cell phone
While we tend to focus on the highlights of an over-the-road hunting trip, we also know that it can be a lot of work. Accept this for what it is, and it won’t stop you from making the journey. (Tony J. Peterson photo)

Caught Up in Logistics

It might seem daunting to drive 1,000 miles to an unknown state to hunt your way across unfamiliar land, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re stressed about where to stay, take care of those details ahead of time. Finding pet-friendly motels is pretty easy, as is finding campgrounds if that’s your thing. I make notes on my phone of lodging options in each area, and then if I need them because we are on plan D for the trip, it’s a simple phone call to book a room or reserve a site.If these types of details cause you to develop an ulcer and that keeps you from traveling, consider another common mistake folks make: Inviting too many other hunters. We take safety in numbers, but when you’re looking to make an upland trip happen, the more is not the merrier. More people means more dogs, more hassle, and in my experience, less enjoyment.

I travel with one good hunting buddy and his dog, and that’s it. I’ve learned from my mistakes in this department, and you should too. Now I know your brother-in-law and your co-worker and the guy from the gym all have bird dogs and want to shoot roosters with you, but do you really want to load up a couple of trucks and try to convoy your way through this thing together? You don’t, and it’ll become a nightmare the more you manage people and their dogs. For ease in scheduling and logistics, keep the hunting party small so that you can plan it correctly, and then hunt in a manner that suits you once you get there.

Know the Rules 

New state, new rules. That means you’ve got to know limits, shooting hours, and a host of other regulations surrounding your hunt, many of which will differ from your home-state jaunts. At first glance, this can seem like a lot to handle—especially if you’re hunting public land, which might come with its own set of rules.

Public land hunting signs
A lot of things can derail well-intentioned hunt planning, but confusing rules and regulations for different states rank high on the list. If you’re considering an over-the-road trip, figure out local hunting laws before you go. (Tony J. Peterson photo)

Take the time to understand them and seek out local help if you can’t. A quick email or phone call to a state game agency can clear things up in a hurry and ease your mind about what you’re getting into. This part doesn’t get as much love as it should for most of us, but it’s important. It’s also a great step to take in clearing the hurdle about whether to travel or not. In other words, don’t let unfamiliar regulations dissuade you from traveling.

There’s nothing more satisfying than watching your dog work in a new environment. But that moment takes a lot of work to make happen. That work can be confusing and seem like it’s not worth it, but it is. You’ve just got to break down the planning process, pick a good hunting partner, and learn the rules and regs for your destination.

Bird hunter holding an American woodcock
Take the trip. As long as you've planned it reasonably well, you absolutely won't regret it. (Tony J. Peterson photo)
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