Every bird hunt has a takeaway worth remembering. It might be the way your dog behaved, for better or worse. Maybe it’s the time you couldn’t miss or couldn’t hit, the blood-red sunset you photographed or the cold, pelting rain you endured. It could be a mega-lunch enjoyed or the one missed when you finally arrived at the rendezvous spot to learn—surprise!—one of your tailgating pals had eaten the last sandwich.
I’ll never forget a big lunch in central Spain after a morning of shooting driven red-legged partridge. Served out of the blazing sun in a tent large enough for a small circus, when the heaping platters of antipasto disappeared, we fell to with freshly grilled chicken, Mediterranean salad and bread still oven warm. Or the day’s-end picnic in the Crimea when our Eurasian-woodcock guides opened jars of canned sweet peppers and onions and passed around roasted quail, sourdough-wrapped sausages, sardines, Roma tomatoes and fried fish—enough food for a small army. Oh, how a 10-mile walk hunting birds will ease the glutton’s shame!
Closer to home was a notable lunch in New Brunswick when we stopped shooting woodcock and grouse long enough to help the guide set up chairs and a small table furnished with linen covering, napkins and real silverware. A cooler yielded smoked Atlantic salmon and liver pâté spread on delicate crackers followed by a generous lobster salad, but we saved the chilled Chablis for later. I thought, I should do this back in northern Michigan, but haven’t yet.
At home field lunches tend to be the kind your mother packed for school: a tuna sandwich, apple and some shattered Oreos. But not always. In our U.P. bird camp one of the newer members brings a whole spiral-cut ham for the DIYers who plan to hunt all day. Even so, any backwoods tavern has a strong pull when the afternoon is warm, the birds aren’t flying and the MSU-UM game is on.
Before the days of HoneyBaked Ham, lunch provisions could be spartan indeed. In our younger years, when legs were strong and pesky ailments lay somewhere beyond the horizon, we were known to skip lunch altogether. I recall the time our famished squad gathered along a truck trail at noon to share a smallish chunk of venison sausage, single baguette and jug of cider. Back at camp after dark, we attacked the larder and ate until it hurt.
We don’t sleep in tents anymore, having upgraded to a rented lodge where most of us are in bed by 9. When you can’t push away the dinner plate and are sucking on Tums, who thinks about lunch the next day?
Tom Huggler’s Grouse of North America and A Fall of Woodcock won national acclaim and are now collectible. His Quail Hunting in America (Stackpole) is still in print. A Fall of Woodcock was reprinted recently by Skyhorse Publishing.