Hunting & Heritage  |  11/30/2022

Wisconsin's First Women on the Wing Upland Bird Camp


Novices and mentors alike share love of bird hunting

By John Motoviloff

After helping Wisconsin Farm Bill Biologist Britta Petersen run a Women on the Wing Upland Bird Camp at Crex Meadows Wildlife Area this October, I was walking along a Crex wetland on a warm Sunday afternoon jumpshooting ducks. With each step, plumes of ash floated in the hazy twilight. As I walked along the black-rimmed slough, here and there a live ember would still be glowing, a week after the controlled burn, as if the old order was not yet ready to give up.

I pressed on along the cindered edge of Dike 6 Flowage. I had my eye on a pair of mallards that I thought I could sneak. At the same time, as I crept slowly along, I replayed the weekend — how women stepped up from venues as diverse as Pheasants Forever, the Wisconsin DNR, Artemis Sportswomen and the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association leading a mix of pointers and flushers into the field to show novices the magic of dog work, how the novices and mentors alike were a mix of age and experience levels, and how—on a personal level—I wished my college-aged daughter had been there to share her love of hunting with these wonderful women. A flood of sensory impressions from the weekend then followed. The jammy smell of apricot pheasant wafting from the slow cooker, the happy buzz of social hour conversation and laughter: deep-down, from-the-gut belly laughter.

What stood out was what the lack of what is often dominant in traditional hunting camps. There was no talk about who shot the most birds or which had the longest tail feathers. There was no one-upping. Posturing. No my-way-or-the-highway pronouncements about the best dog, the best truck, the best gun, the best way to work cover. It was as if, for that moment, for that weekend, the old ways had been put aside, and that something new and fresh was growing, rising from the ashes.

The mallards flushed out of range, as if they often do, and the sun was sinking into the horizon. The sand barrens of northwest Wisconsin unfurled like a middle ground between Great Lakes forests that lay to the east and the vast expanses of the prairies to the west. I had the weight of a single wood duck in my vest and was feeling content.

Bird for bird, that warm weight brought me back to a scene from the morning’s mentored hunt. Novices Josie and Michelle watched in amazement as my labrador Gypsy flushed a rooster in front of them. The palpable feel of anticipation, the whirr of wings, the newness and freshness of it all, seemed to hold in the crepuscular moment I inhabited. Realizing I was on the threshold of something, I sat down on an oak log. I listened to what was inside me and it went something like this: No doubt, hunting is about tradition and roots. But—like nature—it also needs to be invigorated with new growth, new fire, lest it become old, brittle, and at some point, just blow away.