The first time many Americans heard of wingshooting was probably in early 2006, when Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot 78-year-old Austin attorney, Harry Whittington, while the two men were hunting quail on Whittington's South Texas ranch. While there are undoubtedly some people who would like to see attorneys considered fair game for hunting, traditionalists strongly discourage using members of the Bar for target practice.
For Ralph Stuart, editor-in-chief of Shooting Sportsman Magazine, the perfect hunting experience “combines all of the elements of a great wingshoot: plenty of hard-flying birds, excellent dogwork, room to roam, friendly and safe shooters to share the experience with, and at day’s end comfortable lodging and good food.” He adds that when it comes to choosing a wingshooting destination, “my primary interest is in the quality of the birds, which often is determined by the size of the area being hunted and the type of cover it offers. If I’m not hunting with my own dog, I also try to make sure that I’ll be with knowledgeable guides and talented dogs. Unique and scenic terrain doesn’t hurt, either.”
Indeed, wildlife artist Paul Turnbaugh's favorite part of wingshooting is working with Meg, his beloved German short-hair pointer. “The great thing about dogs is that their main goal in life is to be with you, and do what you're doing with all the zeal they can offer. If you're happy, they're happy, and they're always up for what you want to do. It doesn't really matter if we get a lot of birds because the satisfaction of having a dog as an intelligent hunting partner is a real joy.”
As for his favorite birds, Turnbaugh says, “I love hunting quail, pheasant, chukar, partridge and ducks. Pheasants are my favorite because they are so beautiful when they take flight.” The birds also serve as a major inspiration for his artwork. “The marriage between hunting and painting is what makes a hunt extra special for me. All my hunting and fishing buddies love our outings, but I've got the extra satisfaction of recording those paintings with a paintbrush.”
Wingshooting destinations may offer wild birds, released birds or a mixture of both. Phil Bourjaily, shooting editor for Field & Stream magazine, says that while it's often virtually impossible to tell the difference, he prefers wild birds in general, because “it means you are partaking in a healthy environment. That's something that matters to me a lot.” Then he adds, “It doesn't hurt if the bed is soft and the food is good.”
Good food and soft beds are a priority for James Hathaway, the manager of communications and conservation for Orvis Company, the 150-year-old Vermont-based sporting retailer. To receive a coveted Orvis endorsement, a lodge must “offer the finest hunting and fishing in the country.” But that’s not all. He continues, “lodges in our programs exhibit a commitment to customer service that goes well and above what would be experienced elsewhere. If there is a lodge which has great hunting, but the attention to the customers' needs is not exemplary, that lodge will not win our endorsement. We have actually pulled endorsements from lodges where we have received complaints in the past, so we take this very seriously.”
For these wingshooting experts, however, it is ultimately the quality of the shoot that matters most, the spirit of community and friendship it engenders and the respect it builds for the environment. Paul Turnbaugh says that the best part of hunting may be the powerful bonding experience it creates between generations.
“It was a rite of manhood to go hunting with Grandpa, Dad, and my older brother. It became something I loved mainly because it was outdoors, I was doing it with family, and because I was entrusted with a real gun. I loved the fact that my elders felt I was responsible enough to handle a gun.” It's a tradition he says he's proud to continue with his own children.
“It was a real honor to buy my son his first gun, take him to his firearms safety course, get him his first license and take him on his first hunt with our dog. Now we hunt together a fair amount, and it makes everything that much better.”
The following wingshooting destinations were chosen for both their broad geographic range as well as the excellence and diversity of their birds. Preference was also given to places that had excellent food and lodging, although this was a secondary consideration.
If you're new to the sport of wingshooting, or would simply like more information, pick up a copy of the "2008 Black's Guide to Wing and Clay Waterfowl". It's an indispensable guide to hundreds of wingshooting locations around the country, and full of invaluable tips and advice to make the most of your wingshooting experience.