Hunting & Heritage  |  08/26/2021

Going Through a Stage


Different birds, different mindsets. Where do you land in your upland journeys?

Story by Tom Carpenter, Painting by Ross Hier

I’m going through a stage. But for every kind of upland bird I hunt, it’s a different one. 

Most hunters have heard about “The Stages of the Hunter” theory, developed by Dr. Robert Jackson and Dr. Robert Norton at the University of Wisconsin – LaCrosse back in the late 1970s: As an outdoorsperson progresses in their hunting career, they pass though distinct steps of development and look for different kinds of rewards from the passion and the pursuit.

Forty-plus years later, this oft-cited theory continues to meet the test of time. Most hunters can find themselves somewhere in the flow. No stage is better or worse than others. They are not necessarily sequential. Sometimes the stages cross over or combine.

The true beauty for upland hunters is, you can be at different stages for different birds. That’s certainly the case for me.  l How about you?


“I went hunting” can well be the reward. For me, this is quail hunting. I grew up with enough coveys around to fall in love with quail. I now live far from the nearest one. Getting out after bobwhites takes me back, and that’s good enough.


Sometimes, pulling the trigger and hearing booms is the goal. Enter dove hunting. As a fledgling dove hunter from the north country with limited opportunities to sit on a bucket and shoot at these speedy flyers on sultry September days, just being there and banging away makes me happy. Once in a while I even hit one.

Limiting Out

Game managers set bag limits carefully. Never feel sheepish about wanting to keep going, getting the dog some more work, and hunting it out. After 47 seasons wandering the wonders of pheasant country, my heart ends up here for roosters. I don’t want to stop until I must. A limit is no bottom line for fulfillment at sunset … but a roostery sag in the gamebag sure does feel good.


The sage grouse shall be my trophy bird. I have only hunted them once, and it was basically a bumpy two-day pickup ride along two-ruts with my rancher friend after I had shot a Wyoming antelope. I need to do it right. It’s a top bucket-lister for Lark and me.


For some birds, the “how” matters most. It’s woodcock here. While I can’t say the same for pheasants or sharptails or most other birds, I really only want to shoot woodcock the dog has pointed. It’s the deal we have made with a bird whose spirit lives in the core of our guts.


You can yearn for a place as much as anything else. Just being in empty country that holds sharptails or prairie chickens fills my soul.

Family and Friends 

Most hunters come back full circle to just being happy to be out hunting. But as we age, and we all do, family and friends and companionship and tradition become as important as the hunt. Annual hunts with my three boys, and also with my circle of best rooster-crazy friends, come to mind.

Giving Back

Every member of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever resides here. Giving back to upland habitat and wild places and public lands for all transcends every stage of the hunter. For you, the PF and QF family is thankful indeed. May you find what you are looking for in the wonder of the uplands this fall.

Tom Carpenter, assisted by Lark , is editor at Pheasants Forever.

This story first appeared as the back-pager of PF/QF's 2021 Upland Bird Hunting Super Issue.