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Upland Bird Hunting

CrabHusker

Stifling Dissent Since 1965
5 Year Member
Growing up in Omaha, I would head out to the country pheasant hunting pretty much every weekend during the season. Now, I live in the country, pheasants all around me, and I haven't been out in years. I may have to change that this year.

I used to go for a few hours almost daily during the season when I was in high school. Spent at least one day most weekends hunting something and now other than the trip to Kansas last December, I haven't spent a day in the field or filled a single tag.
 

Yoda

Travel Squad
5 Year Member
Thanksgiving morning was always a large family outing in northern Dawson County and southern Custer County tradition for me. Started tagging along at about the age of 4. I think at about 8 I was finally allowed to carry more than a BB gun in the field, a single .410. Birds were plentiful, and I managed to get my first one Thanksgiving morning of 78. Couldn’t wait to get back to the grandparents house to relay the event to my Gramps. His health had prevented him from going beginning that year. The tradition continued through my early teens and into high school. Simpler times.

I haven’t chased pheasants for several years now.
 

goodnterribles

Optics and Kool Aid
5 Year Member
Having spent most of the first 35 years of my life in the Nebraska and/or Colorado, I grew up hunting upland birds. Easy access. Equipment was cheap. All you really needed was a shotgun and a good pair of boots. Public land was usually pretty close to wherever I lived and even in Colorado, I'd find birds most days. Maybe not a limit, but it was rare that I'd walk a field and not flush at least a few birds. Mostly pheasants, but occasionally a quail or two. Taking them home was another question, but even then, that wasn't really always the point. For years I mostly hunted alone, then I got to hunt over a great dog for the first time. He and I were frequent companions on weekends in the fall and winter and he seemed to enjoy the trips as much as I did. I don't think I understood how relaxing upland hunting was for me or how much I really enjoyed it until years later it wasn't an option, or at least hunting actual birds was more of a fantasy than reality.

Fast forward to 2002 and I'm living and working in Tennessee. I'd read story after story growing up about the clouds of quail in Tennessee, Virginia and the Carolina's. I knew pheasants were scarce, but it sounded like I could easily replace one bird for another. I was wrong. Now if you wanted to hunt farm raised birds on a game preserve, you could find and kill birds. That's never been my deal, so I walked a lot. So did my dog. We found a few coveys, but there were few and far between. Next stop was Virginia and again, no wild quail to speak of. Heard a few guys talk ruffed grouse up in the Virginia mountains, so my dog and I spent weekend after weekend looking for birds. Yeah, that was a fantasy too. I walked miles in miles in the Virginia mountains looking for ruffed grouse and found a few tracks, saw a few birds flush wild 50+ yards away, but never fired a shot.

So now I'm in South Carolina. Another upland wasteland and other than my infrequent trips to Western Kansas pheasant hunting, my memories and a few pictures are all that's left. The birdiest dog I've ever know, Chester, has been gone almost eight years now. I replaced him with more Brittany's, who're just as birdy, but are momma's couch dogs these days. They'll kill a dove in the back yard from time to time, but they don't have that intense need to chase a rooster in waist deep Big Blue Stem.

I wish I'd have appreciated my time out west in the corn fields, walking fence lines and slogging through cattails and hearing that rush of beating wings and that whistle when a rooster took to the air. It wasn't all about that, but those moments, mixed with the smell of the fields, the feel of the gun and the sound of my boots covering another mile stays with me.

What are your upland memories?

This sounds exhausting. I'll just sit on my couch drinking beer.
 

Deer&Ducks

Recruit
5 Year Member
Bird hunting was a huge part of my upper elementary and middle school years. My mom's folks owned a small piece of farm land through which a crick bent back and forth, cutting a half dozen peninsulas. I'd walk for hours back and forth, 20-gauge in hand, up and down the crick banks, usually breaking the top of the bank just in time to see a flock of pheasants soar off around the next bend. Every now and again, bird and shot would accidentally run into each other, but for me, all I wanted was to be outside on the farm.

On my dad's side, my uncles had organized hunts every fall. One uncle would come out from Colorado and would hunt my other uncle's farm for a week or two. My dad and I always managed to get up there with them for a weekend. Thanksgiving morning hunts were also a big part of the tradition. My favorite spots were the old farmsteads and shelterbelts. So overgrown and thick; they always held birds. I always volunteered to walk through the toughest part, mostly because I was afraid to block on the end and look foolish when I shot and missed.

My in-laws farm in western Kansas, which is very different hunting than northeast Nebraska. I don't have a dog, but I'm persistent and usually get a few. My dad taught me how to hunt birds back on my Mom's farm and I took those lessons to the open prairie, usually where the thinner grass gave way to a low spot and thicker cover. The birds that don't fly early will often sit tight and let you walk right by, so he told me to walk a few steps and stop, then wait for a little while. Walk a few more steps and stop again. Walk away and come back. The birds often got nervous and would eventually fly. Either that or there were never any birds there in the first place, but it worked often enough for me keep trying it.

I don't get out after pheasants anymore, mostly because I'm usually out after deer and waterfowl. I did make a trip to South Dakota a number of years ago and would like to go back again before too long.
 

Middle-aged_Ball_Coach

Eternal Chairman of the Defense Commission
2 Year Member
I used to go for a few hours almost daily during the season when I was in high school. Spent at least one day most weekends hunting something and now other than the trip to Kansas last December, I haven't spent a day in the field or filled a single tag.
I can't remember a time period when hunting and fishing weren't part of my life. We were either begging my father to take us fishing, or we were begging him to let us tag along when he went hunting. He never took me deer hunting until I was old enough to hunt because I figured that I'd be more likely to fidget and scare a deer than to get anything positive out of it; I'm pretty sure he was right about that. Pheasant hunting, though, was always a family affair. I was a 2-legged bird dog from the time I could keep up until I was old enough to hunt, too, which was age 12 in South Dakota. We hunted all the time. We had a shotgun in the pickup whenever we were doing chores, driving to town, going to school, whatever. From my earliest memories at least through the time that I graduated, we also used to hunt pheasants after football practice was over, and we also hunted pheasants between the end of school and the time we had to report to the locker room on game nights. Nobody minded. Nobody got hurt. Nobody shot anybody. It was just ... normal. We sometimes shot birds as we were hurrying back to get dressed, and we had to field dress them quickly before running into the locker room. Cats claimed a couple of birds that were left in truck beds. On a related note, everybody I knew also shot feral cats while hunting. (They're the #1 killer of pheasants.)

My father was diagnosed with emphysema in 1985 when I was 14 years old, coming out of 8th grade, which is also when you can legally drive in SD. As my dad's health eroded away, it was more and more common for me to either hunt alone or with one of my older brothers as my dad couldn't walk anymore. Sometimes he'd block if we could set up a place to drive them towards him. He still hunted deer and turkeys.

When I was in college I started hunting antelope. I had several friends from West River who had invited me, and it eventually became another family tradition for my brothers and I, along with an uncle and cousin, to hunt antelope together in the far northwest corner of South Dakota. We always tried to get my dad to come along, but he never did. He died in September of 2016 after fighting to breathe for over 3 decades. We knew it was coming for all those years, which was like a pall hanging over things at times, but it was actually a blessing to know and to have time to prepare for the inevitable, and I know this because my brother was killed with absolutely no warning the following spring in a farm accident. I was waiting for him in the yard of the farm where we grew up when it happened, but he was moving big round hay bales at his place, about 5 miles away. I was running late, and apparently so was he as we were cleaning up the old farmyard in preparation for selling it. He didn't answer his cell phone, which was incredibly odd. He didn't respond to his texts either, which was even more strange. I was apparently sitting in the one farmyard texting him while he was being crushed to death in his farmyard.

I hadn't hunted antelope since '99, but I got a hold of my college friend and her family, and I hunted antelope again in the fall of '17. I listened to Nebraska get beat by Wisconsin as I drove out there, and I crushed a whitetail buck with my car just after sunset, destroying the front end of the car and crushing my radiator. I forgot that you can't drive out there at night without a cattle guard on your vehicle. We parked my car and used my buddy's ranch truck to hunt. We chatted for two days. I only really hunted for 30 minutes as we basically just drove around the corner from his yard and shot one that was just standing there, waiting for a bus or something. I packed everything into my wrecked car, including jugs of water, and I drove home, stopping every 20 minutes or so to add more water. I tried to plug up the radiator leaks with the leak-stop stuff you pour in, but the damage was too severe to stop it completely. I made it home, so no big deal. Here's the weird part: I still have the antelope in my freezer. I can't bring myself to eat it, not even a bite. I'm very aware that it's something psychological, and I'm sure Freud and Jung would have much to say about it, but it is what it is. My wife, God bless her, hasn't even bothered me about it. She just knows that there's no logical reason for it, so she doesn't ask, and she doesn't complain about it taking up room in the freezer.
 

Middle-aged_Ball_Coach

Eternal Chairman of the Defense Commission
2 Year Member
Thanksgiving morning was always a large family outing in northern Dawson County and southern Custer County tradition for me. Started tagging along at about the age of 4. I think at about 8 I was finally allowed to carry more than a BB gun in the field, a single .410. Birds were plentiful, and I managed to get my first one Thanksgiving morning of 78. Couldn’t wait to get back to the grandparents house to relay the event to my Gramps. His health had prevented him from going beginning that year. The tradition continued through my early teens and into high school. Simpler times.

I haven’t chased pheasants for several years now.
On both Thanksgiving morning but especially Christmas morning my whole extended family would get together to go hunt coyotes. There's a limit of 20 people for hunting pheasants or deer, but I don't think that there's a limit for hunting coyotes. If there was, we broke the law because there were often 30+ of us out swarming around. Good times.

My dad was never much of a duck hunter. My grandpa was, but my grandma told him sometime in the late 70s that he needed to start cleaning his own ducks, and he stopped going. :Giggle: True story. I also started hunting ducks when I was in college, but I've only been duck hunting a handful of times since then. I still have a couple dozen decoys because I still plan to use them, but it's just the busiest time of the year for me, especially if I'm also hunting antelope and bowhunting deer ... which I also started doing in college ... and I haven't done much since.... I'm starting to wonder how I ever graduated from college with all of that time I spent hunting.
 
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CrabHusker

Stifling Dissent Since 1965
5 Year Member
I can't remember a time period when hunting and fishing weren't part of my life. We were either begging my father to take us fishing, or we were begging him to let us tag along when he went hunting. He never took me deer hunting until I was old enough to hunt because I figured that I'd be more likely to fidget and scare a deer than to get anything positive out of it; I'm pretty sure he was right about that. Pheasant hunting, though, was always a family affair. I was a 2-legged bird dog from the time I could keep up until I was old enough to hunt, too, which was age 12 in South Dakota. We hunted all the time. We had a shotgun in the pickup whenever we were doing chores, driving to town, going to school, whatever. From my earliest memories at least through the time that I graduated, we also used to hunt pheasants after football practice was over, and we also hunted pheasants between the end of school and the time we had to report to the locker room on game nights. Nobody minded. Nobody got hurt. Nobody shot anybody. It was just ... normal. We sometimes shot birds as we were hurrying back to get dressed, and we had to field dress them quickly before running into the locker room. Cats claimed a couple of birds that were left in truck beds. On a related note, everybody I knew also shot feral cats while hunting. (They're the #1 killer of pheasants.)

My father was diagnosed with emphysema in 1985 when I was 14 years old, coming out of 8th grade, which is also when you can legally drive in SD. As my dad's health eroded away, it was more and more common for me to either hunt alone or with one of my older brothers as my dad couldn't walk anymore. Sometimes he'd block if we could set up a place to drive them towards him. He still hunted deer and turkeys.

When I was in college I started hunting antelope. I had several friends from West River who had invited me, and it eventually became another family tradition for my brothers and I, along with an uncle and cousin, to hunt antelope together in the far northwest corner of South Dakota. We always tried to get my dad to come along, but he never did. He died in September of 2016 after fighting to breathe for over 3 decades. We knew it was coming for all those years, which was like a pall hanging over things at times, but it was actually a blessing to know and to have time to prepare for the inevitable, and I know this because my brother was killed with absolutely no warning the following spring in a farm accident. I was waiting for him in the yard of the farm where we grew up when it happened, but he was moving big round hay bales at his place, about 5 miles away. I was running late, and apparently so was he as we were cleaning up the old farmyard in preparation for selling it. He didn't answer his cell phone, which was incredibly odd. He didn't respond to his texts either, which was even more strange. I was apparently sitting in the one farmyard texting him while he was being crushed to death in his farmyard.

I hadn't hunted antelope since '99, but I got a hold of my college friend and her family, and I hunted antelope again in the fall of '17. I listened to Nebraska get beat by Wisconsin as I drove out there, and I crushed a whitetail buck with my car just after sunset, destroying the front end of the car and crushing my radiator. I forgot that you can't drive out there at night without a cattle guard on your vehicle. We parked my car and used my buddy's ranch truck to hunt. We chatted for two days. I only really hunted for 30 minutes as we basically just drove around the corner from his yard and shot one that was just standing there, waiting for a bus or something. I packed everything into my wrecked car, including jugs of water, and I drove home, stopping every 20 minutes or so to add more water. I tried to plug up the radiator leaks with the leak-stop stuff you pour in, but the damage was too severe to stop it completely. I made it home, so no big deal. Here's the weird part: I still have the antelope in my freezer. I can't bring myself to eat it, not even a bite. I'm very aware that it's something psychological, and I'm sure Freud and Jung would have much to say about it, but it is what it is. My wife, God bless her, hasn't even bothered me about it. She just knows that there's no logical reason for it, so she doesn't ask, and she doesn't complain about it taking up room in the freezer.

Fishing has been easier for me to keep active at. Even though I haven't been able to break out the fly rod and chase trout like I did in the uncrowded, free stone streams of the West forty years ago, I'll fish when we take the boat out and usually catch a few crappie or one of those green carp everyone around here loves.

Funny you mention the feral cats. My last pheasant trip back to Kansas in December of '18, we kept running into bobcats. It's not like I'd never seen bobcats in Western Kansas or Nebraska before, but it might be one in a multiple day trip at a distance or maybe tracks or scat. We saw no fewer than a dozen and one was the largest bobcat I'd ever seen. Not at all surprising is that the trip was my least productive pheasant hunt since I'd hunted Eastern Colorado after a few really bad weather years.

The antelope experience also brings up a good belly laugh for me. My older cousin is the guy who got me into fly fishing and fly tying. He also 'taught' me how to hunt antelope. He grew up in Northern Wyoming and held the antelope in similar esteem to prairie dogs while laughing at folks that turned them into some smart, fickle animal you had to stalk hunt from five hundred yards away. This was 1983, because as a Wyoming grad he was convinced the Cowboys had the team to roll into Lincoln and beat Nebraska. I was convinced he should stick to fly tying and labor law, but the bet was on. NU wins, he takes me on an antelope hunting trip in Wyoming. Wyoming wins and I take him pheasant hunting at a place one of my buddies families owned outside of Mc Cook. I won and met him at his family cabin not too far from Sheridan. We got up early the next morning and drove back the way I came for an hour or so, parked his truck and he 'coached' me on what and what not to do while he drank a cup of coffee and smoked his pipe.

'Don't make any sudden movements. Don't talk. Don't flail your arms.' He says as we're looking out the windshield at a group of 15-20 pronghorn about 300 yards away, lazily grazing on the sparse grass between all the damned sage brush.

'We'll walk in a straight line, slowly, toward them and the rest will be self explanatory.' So that's what we did.

I had no idea what to expect, but I didn't expect them to walk directly and equally methodically....toward us. Apparently pronghorn antelope, while being pretty skittish in their own way, are also very curious, in a curiosity killed the cat sort of way. I now understood why he said my open site Winchester model 94 .30-.30 would be fine and no, I didn't need to bring the scoped -06 or my newish .308. I brought the .308 based on all the stories I'd heard of 300 and 400 yard shots people had needed to take antelope and I'd shot steel targets with that gun on a 600 yard range. It stayed in the case.

Being the kind and considerate game animals they are, they split the distance with us and I shot my first antelope, with my open sight .30-.30, from less than 100 yards away. Dressing the animal and carrying it back to the truck was more time consuming and physically taxing than the hunt. By a lot. I can say that about some of the elk and mule deer I'd shot in the Colorado mountains, but that was a different story. That experience is just one of the reasons I've never hunted a high fence game animal camp, though the opportunity comes up almost every year. I did go antelope hunting one more time as I was somewhat addicted to the unique texture and flavor the meat would add to stews and chili, but I made it more difficult by remaining prone and shooting the animal from several hundred yards, with my .308.
 

CrabHusker

Stifling Dissent Since 1965
5 Year Member
Bird hunting was a huge part of my upper elementary and middle school years. My mom's folks owned a small piece of farm land through which a crick bent back and forth, cutting a half dozen peninsulas. I'd walk for hours back and forth, 20-gauge in hand, up and down the crick banks, usually breaking the top of the bank just in time to see a flock of pheasants soar off around the next bend. Every now and again, bird and shot would accidentally run into each other, but for me, all I wanted was to be outside on the farm.

On my dad's side, my uncles had organized hunts every fall. One uncle would come out from Colorado and would hunt my other uncle's farm for a week or two. My dad and I always managed to get up there with them for a weekend. Thanksgiving morning hunts were also a big part of the tradition. My favorite spots were the old farmsteads and shelterbelts. So overgrown and thick; they always held birds. I always volunteered to walk through the toughest part, mostly because I was afraid to block on the end and look foolish when I shot and missed.

My in-laws farm in western Kansas, which is very different hunting than northeast Nebraska. I don't have a dog, but I'm persistent and usually get a few. My dad taught me how to hunt birds back on my Mom's farm and I took those lessons to the open prairie, usually where the thinner grass gave way to a low spot and thicker cover. The birds that don't fly early will often sit tight and let you walk right by, so he told me to walk a few steps and stop, then wait for a little while. Walk a few more steps and stop again. Walk away and come back. The birds often got nervous and would eventually fly. Either that or there were never any birds there in the first place, but it worked often enough for me keep trying it.

I don't get out after pheasants anymore, mostly because I'm usually out after deer and waterfowl. I did make a trip to South Dakota a number of years ago and would like to go back again before too long.

Your description of hunting without a dog is what I did in my pre dog years what I do now that the dogs are all 'Momma's babies'. I did a few other things too, to increase the likelihood that I'd get a rooster to move. I'd zig zag across a field, changing my pace as well. Fast steps, then slow, then stop. Reverse directions then slow, fast, stop. It wasn't as effective as a dog, but it kept me entertained and I'm sure was entertaining to anyone watching.
 

Middle-aged_Ball_Coach

Eternal Chairman of the Defense Commission
2 Year Member
Fishing has been easier for me to keep active at. Even though I haven't been able to break out the fly rod and chase trout like I did in the uncrowded, free stone streams of the West forty years ago, I'll fish when we take the boat out and usually catch a few crappie or one of those green carp everyone around here loves.

Funny you mention the feral cats. My last pheasant trip back to Kansas in December of '18, we kept running into bobcats. It's not like I'd never seen bobcats in Western Kansas or Nebraska before, but it might be one in a multiple day trip at a distance or maybe tracks or scat. We saw no fewer than a dozen and one was the largest bobcat I'd ever seen. Not at all surprising is that the trip was my least productive pheasant hunt since I'd hunted Eastern Colorado after a few really bad weather years.

The antelope experience also brings up a good belly laugh for me. My older cousin is the guy who got me into fly fishing and fly tying. He also 'taught' me how to hunt antelope. He grew up in Northern Wyoming and held the antelope in similar esteem to prairie dogs while laughing at folks that turned them into some smart, fickle animal you had to stalk hunt from five hundred yards away. This was 1983, because as a Wyoming grad he was convinced the Cowboys had the team to roll into Lincoln and beat Nebraska. I was convinced he should stick to fly tying and labor law, but the bet was on. NU wins, he takes me on an antelope hunting trip in Wyoming. Wyoming wins and I take him pheasant hunting at a place one of my buddies families owned outside of Mc Cook. I won and met him at his family cabin not too far from Sheridan. We got up early the next morning and drove back the way I came for an hour or so, parked his truck and he 'coached' me on what and what not to do while he drank a cup of coffee and smoked his pipe.

'Don't make any sudden movements. Don't talk. Don't flail your arms.' He says as we're looking out the windshield at a group of 15-20 pronghorn about 300 yards away, lazily grazing on the sparse grass between all the damned sage brush.

'We'll walk in a straight line, slowly, toward them and the rest will be self explanatory.' So that's what we did.

I had no idea what to expect, but I didn't expect them to walk directly and equally methodically....toward us. Apparently pronghorn antelope, while being pretty skittish in their own way, are also very curious, in a curiosity killed the cat sort of way. I now understood why he said my open site Winchester model 94 .30-.30 would be fine and no, I didn't need to bring the scoped -06 or my newish .308. I brought the .308 based on all the stories I'd heard of 300 and 400 yard shots people had needed to take antelope and I'd shot steel targets with that gun on a 600 yard range. It stayed in the case.

Being the kind and considerate game animals they are, they split the distance with us and I shot my first antelope, with my open sight .30-.30, from less than 100 yards away. Dressing the animal and carrying it back to the truck was more time consuming and physically taxing than the hunt. By a lot. I can say that about some of the elk and mule deer I'd shot in the Colorado mountains, but that was a different story. That experience is just one of the reasons I've never hunted a high fence game animal camp, though the opportunity comes up almost every year. I did go antelope hunting one more time as I was somewhat addicted to the unique texture and flavor the meat would add to stews and chili, but I made it more difficult by remaining prone and shooting the animal from several hundred yards, with my .308.
Have you ever heard of "flagging" antelope? I've heard it works for mountain goats, too. Basically, you lay down flat in enough cover to break up your profile on the horizon. About every 30 seconds or so, someone waves a black flag. They come over to check out the oddity, and, boom, you're eating antelope chislic.

Antelope meat that has been well cared for is my favorite game meat to eat. I often didn't need to do it, but if it ever tasted a big too much like a rutted up billy goat, my great uncle's trick was to soak it overnight in the fridge in white milk. The milk draws out the blood and seemed to tenderize the meat. The times that I tried it, it worked.

Fwiw, I read in a book on turkey hunting that one old-timer's secret weapon for a hung-up gobbler was to strip off his pants and start crawling backwards towards the gobbler so that all he saw coming at him was a chocolate starfish surrounded by a big white @$$. He said that the gobbler(s) would be curious and would come over to check things out. I never tried it, but it's ... umm ... interesting to visualize. I'd be too scared of actually living out one of those joke stickers....

1583689208418.png
 
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Sandhills Husker

Scout Team
5 Year Member
Hunted upland game as a kid. Mainly pheasants as we were a little north of prime quail country. No dogs. Gave it up in high school due to playing sports during hunting season. Didn’t start back up in college because I was generally hungover. Resumed hunting with my father-in-law at age 30 in the counties around Lincoln. Amazing how good the hunting was within 30 miles of Lincoln. Again no dogs.

Now I am on my second field golden retriever. It’s all about the dog; wouldn’t hunt without one now. But unfortunately there are no pheasants around here any more. It all changed about 10 years ago. Perfect storm of CRP diminishing, crop choice, and farming approach. Still good quail numbers, although they took a hit with last year’s winter and the wet spring and summer.

So I pay for birds to give my son and nephews opportunties to experience hunting, and go to South Dakota every year. This area is now mostly deer and turkey habitat. Makes me very sad.
 
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Yoda

Travel Squad
5 Year Member
Have you ever heard of "flagging" antelope? I've heard it works for mountain goats, too. Basically, you lay down flat in enough cover to break up your profile on the horizon. About every 30 seconds or so, someone waves a black flag. They come over to check out the oddity, and, boom, you're eating antelope chislic.

Antelope meat that has been well cared for is my favorite game meat to eat. I often didn't need to do it, but if it ever tasted a big too much like a rutted up billy goat, my great uncle's trick was to soak it overnight in the fridge in white milk. The milk draws out the blood and seemed to tenderize the meat. The times that I tried it, it worked.

Fwiw, I read in a book on turkey hunting that one old-timer's secret weapon for a hung-up gobbler was to strip off his pants and start crawling backwards towards the gobbler so that all he saw coming at him was a chocolate starfish surrounded by a big white @$$. He said that the gobbler(s) would be curious and would come over to check things out. I never tried it, but it's ... umm ... interesting to visualize. I'd be too scared of actually living out one of those joke stickers....

View attachment 39099

Decoying antelope during the rut is an absolute riot. The territorial things come charging in. Gotta be quick on the draw though.
 
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