Pursuit of a Moment
An Upland Hunt Story

What motivates the hunter? What drives the individual to pursue game in field or wilderness in the extreme cold or sun? This was my question as I drove through the vast plains of southern Kansas, making my way to the meetup location. I’m out on a hunt with pro-shooter and shotgun expert Dave Miller and a group of his friends and fellow hunters. It was sunny and excessively windy when I pulled up to the renovated barn where the crew was staying.

Spirits were high as I entered the barn. Dave and the boys were congregating around the tin-topped counter discussing plans as a John Wayne movie played in the background. Joining us were Chad and Aaron, along with JP and Ronnie; and then there were the real stars of the hunt—the bird dogs—Briley, Abby, Sailor, and Guinness. The group decided to grab some lunch and then head to the fields near Greensburg to scout locations for the next day’s hunt, so I climbed into the truck with Dave and Ronnie.

As we drove through the winding miles of milo and corn, Dave was alert, carefully surveying each field. Meanwhile, Ronnie would mark favorable spots on the GPS and Aaron, Chad, and JP followed behind as the second pair of eyes to survey the environment. I could see the hunters imagining; anticipating the conditions to gain an advantage over their game and to make a perfect shot.

The crew after walking through the field.

We moved to another field; “We’re going after it,” Dave said with a smile, his voice getting noticeably more excited. “This is what it’s all about. It’s the adventure, the preparation, the packing up. It’s about Ronnie and I coming together and planning this for months. It’s about a new place that I’ve never hunted before. It’s about being…out there.” I recognized the sentiment in Dave’s words. The urge to discover, to pursue, to experience something instinctual and real. “It’s a vast, big ol’ world and those birds could be anywhere. It might happen, or it may not. But if they’re there…We will find them,” he said.

Dave and Guinness scout a field.

The sun began to dip below the horizon, coloring the farm fields gold, and the air grew colder with every shade that it grew darker. Dave drove to the next field; it was between two food sources—milo and wheat—and the grass and thickets were high. “This is awesome,” he almost whispered, “we have to hunt this. It has to be this one.”

With the scouting mission complete, and the sky completely black, a 4:00 am wake-up lingered in the near future.

The first slivers of light could be seen in the East when Dave and the crew picked me up the following morning, the sun gradually rising over the oil rigs and stark landscape. The sunrise revealed an impressionist’s dream in swirls of pink, orange, yellow, and blue.

“Bee-u-ti-ful,” said Ronnie.

“Yet another reason you go hunting,” added Dave.

We pulled up to the first field, gathered our gear, and made our way into the tall, bluestem grass. I followed closely behind Dave, with Ronnie and Aaron to our left and JP and Chad spread out to our right. Our steps were fast, and the thick brush pressed against our legs like sandbags. There are no barriers between yourself and the environment on a hunt. You are fully immersed, and the only way out is through. Dave clutched his CZ Drake over/under in his hands while dry grass crunched beneath him. Guinness and Sailor leaped in all directions, their senses going wild. I followed the hunters, but they were following the lead of our four-legged friends, waiting for them to pick up a scent.

We were coming to the end of the field with no action. Not a single bird emerged from the coverage. Our instincts dimmed as we walked back towards the trucks when a frantic flutter came from the North. Before I could fully see it, a rooster flew a few feet from JP. Dave caught off guard, tried his best to act. He took a shot too slow. Too late. The moment was gone.

We made it back to our starting point with frustration and excitement. “That’s alright,” said Dave, “It’s all about the pursuit.”

Guinness during a break from a hard day’s work.

The moment of victory.

We drove to the next spot recharged, the missed opportunity from earlier providing motivation as we made our way through the waist-deep field. We had stopped to gain a sense of our surroundings when Guinness began to move with urgency: “Watch him!” Dave yelled. Walking transitioned into a slow run, we watched the ridgeline of the grass intently, Dave readying his shotgun.

Pursuit…Patience…Within a split second the bird flew from its cover, Dave lined up his shot, quickly followed by the crack of his shotgun and the smell of gunpowder…Reward. A chorus of uproar and howling persisted. We reveled in the fruits of our labor, and a large, male pheasant was retrieved by Guinness.

Dave and Guinness walking through the field.

But just as quickly as the moment came, it ended, our sense of victory and triumph short-lived. Rather than quenching our desires of pursuit, the success of the moment only stoked the fire within. Within moments, we continued on. This is what motivates the hunter: not the victory, but the pursuit of a perfect moment that you know doesn’t actually exist. Together we continued through the field looking for a moment so fleeting, so wild, so paper-thin as it slips through your fingers; an experience so deeply human that it justifies your unending pursuit. “It’s never about killing something,” said Dave, “and if that’s your motivation, you’re missing the real thing.”

The field proved to be rich with opportunity for us, and within the next hour, Dave and the boys gathered several more birds. As the day wore on, the sun began to lower into golden hour. Exhausted, hungry, and victorious, we headed back to the barn; satisfied only temporarily, and only for the night.

The fields had succumbed to darkness by the time we returned, with the bitter cold of the plains to remind us of the inevitability of winter. Dave and I rolled up our sleeves and began to clean and dress the birds in tandem. A slight smile on his face, Dave raised his gaze towards me; “this isn’t easy,” he offered, “but it’s real.”

When we finished, the group gathered around the table for a fresh pheasant dinner, whiskey, and conversation between friends. Morning would be upon us soon enough, and before the sun could rise, the hunters would be back in the field, the pursuit beginning anew.

The right gear can make or break a hunt. Click on the images below to find exactly what pro-shooter Dave Miller used for this upland hunt.