Getting the ‘dirt’ on hunters

Every time I see a painting or setup photo of an upland hunter - usually with a grouse, woodcock, or pheasant just taking flight in front of the hunter – I'm reminded of many of the "action movies." You know the type, that shows the hero or heroine (actually, their stunt double) involved in some highly physical and/or violent situation, and then, when the action is over, he or she doesn't have a hair out of place. God forbid if we viewed Angela Jolie as "Laura Croft, Tomb Raider" looking like she'd just been run through a muddy motocross course. Thankfully, real upland hunters often get sweaty and dirty as do their hunting clothes.

Any upland hunter who's spent a few autumns in the best grouse covers – replete with thornapples, briars, stick-tights and burdock – knows what I'm talking about. Hands and faces get scratched by briars and thorns, clothes get peppered with dirt and burrs and shredded by all sorts of thorny flora, and a couple hours of bulling through jungle-like cover soaks your undershirt with hard-earned sweat. There are creeks, swamps and muck holes to slog through. There are low branches that delight in snapping back into your face just when you thought you were clear to move forward. That's real-life upland hunting.

And the bird dogs usually depicted – often show-class and manicured setters or pointers – bear little resemblance to a seasoned upland dog. If it's a long-haired breed, its hair is apt to be tangled and knotted with hundreds of burrs. Both long- and short-haired breeds will sport mud-covered legs and bellies, and may have blood staining the tips of their constantly wagging tails from whipping them against assorted flora growth as the dog follows scent. And the dogs, uninhibited as they are, love every minute of it.

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