Florida, Georgia, Alabama, New York, Kentucky, Michigan, Illinois, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, California, Nevada, Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Minnesota, Wisconsin. That’s 22 states I’ve hunted, many more than once and several, dozens of times. It is a daunting list, not just because of the road and air miles invested but because so many of these states are full of wonderful people and places I’d like to visit more often.
In all of them, I’ve made new friends. I’ve shared truck cabs and wall tents with good old friends. My dogs have banked enough windshield time to get their own driver’s license. What have I learned from so many border crossings, time zones, and area codes? Here’s the short list:
1. Keep things ship-shape in the vehicle. Everything in its place, every time. When you stop for gas, check the oil, diesel exhaust fluid, and clean the windshield because next stop, it might be cold or raining.
2. Feed the dogs on schedule. It’s one of the few constants they have on a road trip. Bring extra batteries and the owner’s manuals for everything, including dog collars.
3. Cram in as many warm clothes as you can. Bring extra rain gear for someone else. Carry a bottle of something from Scotland and leave it with your hosts. Save your back, invest in those fabric fold-up dog kennels for pet friendly hotels.
4. Call ahead and stop to visit friends along the way, even if you don’t think you have the time. Send thank you notes. When you stop, water the dogs first. Find off-the-beaten-track places to park so dogs are safe and unstressed. I like high school athletic fields and county fairgrounds. Bring tie-out stakes.
5. Carry water for your dogs and yourself. Refill at every opportunity. Same for your fuel tank; there are a lot of empty spaces on the map. Bring bowls for your dogs.
6. Eat at local joints instead of chains. Be nice to wait staff. Carry a thermos. Buy your groceries and fuel close to your destination – in many communities you are economic development. Learn a little bit about the place you’re visiting. Pronounce place names correctly. Visit with kitchen staff at the lodge.
7. A place for everything: Dog boxes doors are easy to reach through the canopy window, their water is near the tailgate. Hunting license in vest back-pocket. Dog bowls near dog food; ammo packed near guns, shooting glasses in vest. Windshield ice scraper under seat, water bottle in cup holder. Camera always in left-hand lower pocket of vest.
8. Find something to compliment: your buddy’s dog, a good shot, a well-managed covert, fine booze, a special dinner. Think positive and see the beauty in all things (a great philosophy of life, by the way).
None of this will help you shoot more birds or make your dogs steadier. But in the long run, you will be enriched by the memories you make, the friendships forged. The journey will rise a notch or two on your life list. Whether across the county or the country you will be a better hunter. And person.