An Adult Onset Hunting Story from Washington
You’ve likely heard me talk about adult onset hunting before. If you haven’t, this is a great story to introduce you. The term is used to describe anyone who starts learning to hunt as an adult.
I met Jennifer and Joe Wapenski through a mutual connection this year, and I was fascinated to hear about their journey. Specifically, we talked about how getting a dog actually served as a gateway to hunting for them. They’re not alone either – I’ve heard that from several others as they were learning how to start hunting.
If you’re an adult onset hunter, you’re interested in hunting recruitment, or you call the West Coast home, I think you’ll love this story.
We learned to really value wild food and our hobbies soon centered around outdoor activities that also resulted in dinner.
We have always been outdoor-oriented: we enjoy hiking, backpacking, camping, and exploring the backcountry of the Pacific Northwest. Our first dog is a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog who accompanied us on every adventure. We chose that breed in part because of their reputation as excellent pack dogs – she was always responsible for carrying her own food and gear for multi-day outings. From the very beginning, we really enjoyed having a dog that loved to work and whose instincts matched our own outdoor interests.
We started fishing the local waterways when it became hard to ignore the incredible bounty of seafood available in the Northwest. Salmon fishing in the rivers was our gateway into crabbing, clamming, squidding, and ocean fishing. We learned to really value wild food and our hobbies soon centered around outdoor activities that also resulted in dinner. Eventually this also led us to foraging things like wild mushrooms.
Dabbling with Duck Hunting
…he fell in love with the time spent watching the marsh wake up in the pre-dawn hours.
Joe became interested in duck hunting because it was the next outdoor challenge and could add some variety to our fish-based diet. He attended a hunter education course, got his hunting license, and found a friend that was eager to teach him how to hunt the tidal salt flats of our area. It was a slow start but he fell in love with the time spent watching the marsh wake up in the pre-dawn hours. His initial enthusiasm did not quite carry over to the rest of the family. Jennifer was skeptical of this new pursuit and Joe’s brother-in-law wasn’t so sure another session of freezing in the salty mud was worth the early morning wake-up call.
Eventually, Jennifer’s curiosity led her to accompany Joe in the canoe to his favorite duck spot. The experience was addicting and soon she was filling in regularly as the faithful, trained retriever, paddling out to fetch the ducks that Joe shot.
By the next season, Jennifer was interested in fully participating in the hunt. While it was nice to upgrade to two guns, we realized that our next dog should be one who could participate in the bird hunt. At that point, we weren’t entirely sure if we should get a retriever or if we should look deeper for the right bird dog for us.
Upland Hunting Fever
On top of that, upland hunting seemed downright civilized: we were dry, it was sunny, and we’d started the whole adventure at the very reasonable hour of 10 AM.
In December of our first joint hunting season, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife hosted an upland hunting workshop that, happily, was not geared only towards youth (but also adult onset hunting). Members of Pheasants Forever brought their dogs and led us rookies on a hunt of planted pheasants. We were paired up with a guy who ran a trio of German Shorthairs and by the time we saw the first rooster get up, we were completely hooked.
The magic of watching the dogs search the field and slam on point was unforgettable. On top of that, upland hunting seemed downright civilized: we were dry, it was sunny, and we’d started the whole adventure at the very reasonable hour of 10 AM. By the time we arrived home, we were talking about adding a pointing dog to our family.
The hardest barrier to overcome with learning to hunt was figuring out where to go, followed closely by how to ensure compliance with all of the hunting regulations. Unlike fishing, there’s far less public sharing of good bird hunting spots. On top of that, the regulations can be very confusing for someone who wants to follow all of the rules, but doesn’t yet understand all of the finer details.
The variety of hunting gear was a bit intimidating as well. Understanding all of the choices in guns, chokes, ammo, decoys, etc. took us a lot of time and effort and certainly felt daunting at the start.
For us, bird hunting is about being active, getting outdoors, and coming home with something to prepare into a great meal. We have a deep interest in understanding where our food comes from – whether it’s getting shares of beef from a local farmer, vegetables from our garden, or fish and birds from Washington’s public lands.
As mentioned above, it’s important to us to have working dogs that can participate with us in our outdoor activities. Getting a hunting dog meant that we were committing to regular hunting and offseason training for the next 10 to 12 years. We picked a Deutsch Langhaar because we wanted a dog that was excellent in the field, in the water, and on the couch at home. We aim to keep her well-balanced by staying active and hunting as much as our schedules allow.
By getting a versatile hunting dog, we’ve spent more time in the uplands than we originally expected. Our duck hunting this past season was more jump shooting of lakes and ponds than dedicated time in the blind, mostly because we enjoy staying active and putting miles on both us and the dog.
The most remarkable thing about working with a gun dog is the strong bond that forms when you regularly work and hunt together. We really enjoy seeing the pup’s enthusiasm as she does the things she was specifically bred to do. Hunting is clearly in her DNA.
We also like that having a gun dog keeps us honest in our hunting and training goals. She keeps us active even when work is busy and we’re feeling unmotivated. It’s important to us to keep her exercised and engaged, which in turns keeps us healthy and fulfilled.
One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned is to trust the dog no matter what. We can’t smell what she smells, so we have to rely on her senses and her instinct to locate birds. It’s pretty amazing to hand over that trust, admit that she knows better than we do, and see the successful results.
We live in Western Washington, which is home to a lot of migrating ducks along the coastline and a few ruffed grouse in the forested foothills. A two hour trip over the Cascades puts us into pheasant and valley quail territory. We’ve really enjoyed learning how to hunt coveys of quail since they are quite plentiful and offer a lot of excitement on any given day. Eastern Washington is also home to healthy populations of “huns” (i.e., Hungarian partridge) and chukar. We went on our first partridge hunt last year and fully intend to invest more time in sharpening our skills on those birds. They offer a really fun challenge and aren’t too heavily pressured by other hunters.
If adult onset hunting is something that hits home with you, I hope this story encourages you. I think it’s fascinating. And to be honest, I’m a bit jealous of all the hunting, fishing, and foraging opportunities on the West Coast. We visited family out there last summer, and it really challenges my love for the Midwest.
If you’d like to share your adult onset hunting journey, please reach out to me. I’d love to hear about it!