Orvis Hunt Book Photographer VI: Michael Thompson

Here’s the winners’ spread from the Orvis Fall Hunting Book

As we were putting together our new digital hunting book a few months ago, we realized it was missing something – the photos and stories of our fans and customers in the field. So we put the call out on Instagram asking for your wingshooting photos that captured your hunting experience. The result was hundreds of photos entered, with a dozen chosen to be in the book. We love how the spread turned out and wanted to do more to tell the stories of the people behind the photos. So watch this space for profiles of these intrepid photographers, as well as examples of their work

Our fifth photographer is Michael Thompson (@upland_ish), from Washington. His winning photo was only made possible by the kindness of a stranger.

What’s the story behind your photo that’s in the Orvis Digital Hunt Book?
On the first day of a prairie-grouse hunting trip near the Montana highline, my Gordon Setter ran into some scrap metal and required 14 stitches. He was my only dog at the time, and I felt pretty down and out that my hunt was over before it started. After leaving the vet clinic, I was killing time in an RV park, and a complete stranger came up to me and introduced himself. He was a traveling bird hunter, so we really were just old friends who hadn’t gotten around to meeting until just now. After hearing my hard-luck story, he insisted I go on a couple hunts with him. The picture is from one of those hunts. The guy really saved my trip and we stay in touch to this day.

When did you start bird hunting?
I grew up in an adamantly anti-hunting, anti-gun family, where guns were taboo and hunting was murder. Around the age of 13, I saw a TV show where the host was upland bird hunting. Something about the relationship between the hunter and his dogs connected and grabbed a hold of me so fiercely that it still hasn’t let up. I had to “come out of the closet,” as it were, to my parents that I wanted to be a hunter. It was a long uphill rite of passage proving to them that I could be responsible with a firearm. I had to write countless essays and take every firearm safety class I could find to prove how important it was to me. But I jumped through the hoops and demonstrated that I was responsible enough to use a gun. The first hunt I ever went on was for blue grouse on the Olympic Peninsula. I harvested my first bird and remember feeling as if I was just completed or made whole as part of something much larger than myself. I was a bird hunter.

What’s your favorite species to chase and why?
My favorite species is without a doubt the coastal ruffed grouse found in western Washington. They aren’t common and can be found in some very difficult terrain—think chukar hills but forested and covered in soaking wet foliage and moss. Bagging one on the wing when they are at their best is the ultimate crossroads of skill meeting good karma. No other bird makes me more grateful for being in the right place at the right time.

What’s your most memorable bird hunting moment?
One of my favorite memories is when my rescue setter, Alder, figured out grouse. There is always a certain poverty when one loses a dog and has to wait for the puppy replacement to mature and figure wild birds out. I thought I would side-step this by getting a started dog; instead I wound up with a highly abused field-trial reject setter. It was a lot of work before we became a well-oiled machine, and it took a while for him to really become a grouse dog. I remember the first ruff he worked perfectly. I wing-tipped the bird, and it glided across a beaver pond. I released Alder from his point and sent him for the retrieve. He jumped in and swam across the pond, busting through skim ice, all the way to the other side. There was no prouder moment in my bird hunting life than that one. The next moment wasn’t so triumphant. He found the bird, chased it down, pulled out all the tail feathers and gave it his best Jaws impression before spitting it out and swimming back to me without the grouse. I was still proud of him, even when wading through a November beaver pond for what was left of the bird.

What’s your most forgettable moment?
My most forgettable moment is unsuccessfully giving CPR to one of my dogs that passed from an aneurism during a pheasant hunt. I’m still trying to forget that day.

What do you love most about bird hunting?
What I love most about bird hunting is it engages all of your senses, even your sense of time and place because in that first fractured moment when you hear feathers tearing through the air, time practically stops and you relive every bird that ever flushed before you as the gun finds your shoulder and begins to swing almost on its own.

Where’s your favorite place hunt?
My favorite place to hunt is the prairie. Ruffed grouse may be my favorite bird, but getting to watch the dog work always seems abbreviated and obscured in the grouse woods. On the prairie, I can lose myself watching and reading the body language of my setter as he tastes the wind and tests the horizon. Somewhere between the dog and me, there is a connection that is strongest on endless prairie walks.

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