By Chad Love Photos by Chad Love and Marissa Jensen
Some folks have bodies that look like Michelangelo’s sculpture of David (if you’re a man), or the Venus de Milo (if you’re a woman). Other folks have bodies that look like Michelangelo roughed out the general shape of a human form, then went out for a pizza and never came back.
I am firmly in the latter camp. The closest my body will ever come to definition is when I’m reading a dictionary. But despite my lifelong penchant for just about anything labeled “food” and/or “drink,” I’ve had another lifelong penchant that has helped keep me relatively active in the face of age, sloth, and the insidiously comfortable temptations of our increasingly sedentary-centric modern American lifestyle.
What, you may ask, is this penchant of mine which has kept me upright and moving, increased my overall health both mental and physical, and has helped to keep at least a few McPounds off of me as I get old(ish)?
The uplands, of course. I firmly believe that a life spent outside is a life well spent, and in my mind there is no better way to spend that time outside— and no better activity for overall health and well-being—than walking across the uplands on a crisp fall morning trying to keep up with a dog (if you hunt with one) or (if you don’t) trying to keep up with your own eager anticipation.
The health benefits of upland hunting are acutely obvious and stand out from other forms of hunting in their ability to get you outside and moving. There is no sitting for hours in a blind in the uplands. Fluidity, movement, and the harmonious locomotion of your legs, your lungs, and your soul is the essence of the experience. You want to feel truly engaged with your body and the environment it inhabits? Lace up your boots, grab a shotgun, and start walking toward the horizon.
Now I will not try to claim that upland hunting alone will make you a healthy person. No one activity or lifestyle choice can do that, and I am a perfect example of the truth of that.
You see, I was not always the paragon of 50-year-old fitness you see before you today (cue the laughter from those who know me...). The arc of my life probably resembles the arc of many of you who are now beginning to receive AARP membership offers. In my 20s I was fit and active, and much of that came from upland hunting. In my 30s the demands of family and career cut back many of my other active outdoor pursuits, but my obsession with bird hunting and the miles it put on my legs helped to make up the difference and kept me reasonably fit.
Then my 40s hit, or as I like to call them, the Fluffy Forties. The kids were older and involved in many activities that required time and attention. My formerly high-energy, always-on-the-go metabolism started taking naps. Lots of naps. I had a job that required much travel and had a generous per diem. As a result, I became less active. My obsession with upland hunting burned just as brightly as it ever had, but the opportunities to stoke that fire came less frequently. By the time I was 47, bird hunting had gone from an “in the field and burning calories every waking moment” fixation, to a sad “maybe I can get in a hunt next month” reality.
Due to the demands of life, bird hunting had ceased to be my cardinal direction and the compass point by which I navigated life.
And then, I had my epiphany moment. You know, that moment when the blinding light of spontaneous clarity lasers its way through the cluttered, mundane thoughts of everyday existence and reveals unto us a Big Truth.
My epiphany hit me on the side of a mountain in Arizona, while on a hunt for Mearns’ quail, where I came to the gasping realization that, after a lifetime of being active and relatively fit in pursuit of my outdoor pleasures, I had, somewhere along in my fluffy mid-40s, gotten, well...quite fat. At that moment I was feeling every one of my 48 years and my 30 (well, OK, maybe 35...) extra pounds.
I came down off that mountain with three things: One, a rude awakening as to the true level of my physical fitness (or lack thereof); two, a determination to change that; and three, the realization that if I wanted to spend the rest of my life pursuing my passion for upland hunting instead of playing bingo and bridge down at the senior center, I needed to find a way to incorporate upland bird hunting back into my life not as an occasional pleasure, but as a primary component of an active, healthy, holistic lifestyle.
So I did. I got healthier, dropped a few pounds, and re-dedicated myself to an active, outdoors-based lifestyle. I’m now in a place that’s orders of magnitude better than where I was on that mountainside, and the uplands have played an outsized role in that.
The lesson from my cautionary tale is twofold: One, if you are just now starting your path to the uplands, congratulations! You’ve chosen wisely. You are engaging in an activity, a passion, and a lifestyle that will offer tremendous and lifelong health benefits. Keep it up. Two, if you are already a bird hunter, or have lapsed, and have grown a bit fluffy yourself, or if you are an older adult-onset hunter, remember that it is never too late to take that first step. Or re-step, as the case may be.
It takes a concerted effort across all aspects of your life to be truly healthy, but there are few activities that work as well in tandem with those other aspects than upland hunting. Taken as part of the whole, the uplands can keep you putting one foot in front of the other for the entirety of your life. It is low-impact in effort, high-impact in value, with an incredibly high return on the investment it asks.
All I want out of life is to continue to be able to follow a dog, wade a river, and hike a trail, and to remain physically able to do those things until I keel over dead; ancient, spent, and happy. Isn’t that what we all want, really? The uplands can help you get there.
Chad Love is editor of Quail Forever Journal. If he's honest, he could stand to lose a few more pounds...