I’ve always been fascinated by firearms and shooting; I’m even fortunate to write about them regularly. But one thing I don’t do is hunt. I don’t have a hunting background at all. My grandfather was supposed to take me decades ago, but unfortunately, the wickedness of cancer stole that opportunity—and him—from us. For over two years now, I’ve been writing about guns and shooting. The most peculiar aspect of this wordsmithing adventure is how it led me to try hunting. 

My First Hunting Trip

I’m not completely ignorant about hunting. I carry a basic understanding of the gear and topics, from ecology to cartridge selection and maximum point-blank range. Something cool and ironic happened last autumn around the start of the 2023 hunting season. By chance, I worked on reviewing this Bergara rifle. Out of the few long guns I’ve officially reviewed, that’s the sole bolt-action rifle on record and pretty much the only hunting firearm.

In order to write that article properly, I had to delve into the topic of hunting like never before. With the timing of this project revolving around hunting season, football, and the cool crisp autumn air, the melange of these North American traditions led me to plunge into the world of hunting and develop a brand new fascination.

While I didn’t have the chance to pursue hoofed game, my schedule just happened to align with the chance to hunt both ducks and ribeye-in-the-sky (Sand Hill Crane) in north Texas. I made it happen. I was, after all, supposed to hunt ducks with my grandfather. So, I couldn’t agree more on ducks for my first-ever outing. 

Hunting in Childress County, Texas

I linked up with Straight Flush Outfitters in early December 2023 for a weekend that involved Sand Hill Crane on a Saturday and ducks on a Sunday in Childress County. Childress sits adjacent to the Texas panhandle, the Red River, and Oklahoma. Highway US-287 also flows through here, connecting Dallas-Ft. Worth to I-40 and Amarillo, Texas.

With Childress County being rural and right under a major migratory flyway for wintering fowl, there are plenty of fields and ponds to sustain southbound flocks. If you’ve seen Steven Rinella’s Meat-Eater episode about Sand Hill Crane hunting, the location where they filmed that episode is only a few hours away and shares the same climate and terrain.  

Getting Outfitted for My Hunt

For the uninitiated, the Texas panhandle can be shockingly frigid during the winter months, especially during early morning before the sun rises and legal shooting hours begin. I won’t lie in that I took advantage of Black Friday discounts ahead of time to score some deals on high-end technical gear from some Gucci hunting apparel brands. After a lifetime of working for a living, mostly outside, I don’t believe in skimping on proper gear and footwear.

Interestingly, during this shopping spree, I learned why nearly every piece of kit is heavily camouflaged: because these birds have surprisingly keen sight. Please don’t hold it against me as a non-hunter. The only times I had seen ducks otherwise were in a pond or a Chinese restaurant. 

Hunting Beretta 1301 Shotgun Ducks Sandhill Crane
Author in blind during the Crane Hunt alongside Beretta 1301 Competition shotgun.

Shotgun-wise, I grabbed my Beretta 1301 24-inch Competition shotgun out of the safe. I’ve fired scores of shells for training and fun through this shotgun, and I consider it my workhorse. Function-wise, it’s no different than the Beretta A400 Xtreme guns that are marketed to waterfowlers, save for the lack of a 3 ½ inch chamber and a barrel four inches longer. Twenty-four inches of shotgun barrel is still plenty to shoot and kill fowl with, after all. 

Dan Was a Spectacle to Behold

Dan Hunting Dog Duck Hunt

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of getting outfitted for my first hunt wasn’t any shotgun or piece of kit. It was Dan. Dan, a highly trained Labrador retriever, belongs to Jim, my guide and good friend.

Since Dan was a puppy he’s undergone bird retrieving training to the tune of thousands of dollars. And so far he’s also accompanied Jim on his first season of duck and crane hunts in the Texas panhandle. In fact, as I write these words, Dan is wrapping up another three-month stint of advanced bird-dog training in Alabama during the off-season.

Even being new to hunting, seeing a dog like Dan in action all over a duck pond and in his blind is a sight to behold. Seeing him patiently waiting for commands in his little dog blind, with a steadfast sense of duty. Then observing him spring into action after that signal from Jim, with his wet and matted fur that caused moisture to steam off him. And the contortion of his muscles like tightly wound springs underneath all that.

Dan is a mass of deep orange ochre fur that springs into action. For the uninitiated, it truly is a spectacle to behold.  

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I cover my actual experiences, thoughts and emotions during my first-ever hunts. 

P.E. Fitch
I am a shooter first, and a writer second. IG & Twitter: @pfitch45