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The Race of Grouse

“The pa’tridge of this book is the grouse of the bayberry pastures and the junipers, where the alder runs continue down from the birch hill sides that are dotted with white pines and cedars, and here and there is found a wild apple tree in the corner of an ancient stone wall with blackberry vines and bullbriers tangled together beneath. There, in those long-lived-in parts of the East, is now found the race of grouse that has matched its wits and cunning with man and beast for three centuries and the education of which has been, for a long time, complete.”

These Birds Nowadays

“The old New England grouse dog lived in a day before the pheasant and in a country where quail were never plentiful. He had started out on grouse and while he had a good deal of experience on woodcock right in the grouse covers, he learned his game by having grouse shot over him from puppyhood. Today the experience on game and the training on bird work comes in a different way due to the change in the general grouse situation. Young grouse in late summer, and guided by a crafty old mother, are unsatisfactory birds to work the young dog on, strange as it may seem. The tendency of these young birds to fly into low trees right over the young dog, there to sit and sass him, are not very helpful. The few old grouse the young dog will encounter in his second year of his life when he needs bird work the most, are altogether too much for him. These birds nowadays tax the experienced dog to the limit and it is small wonder that, with occasional exceptions, the young dog learns few manners from them. To be sure, the shooting of just a few birds over the derby grouse dog is very important as this gives him his first real idea of what his mission in life is, but the opportunities are too few and too sketchy for the training that any spirited dog needs to become finished in game handling.”

The Pitch of a Gun

“The angle at which the butt of a grouse gun stock is cut off is also important in this connection. This angle determines what is called the pitch of a gun and may be measured by standing the gun against a door casing with the toe and heel firmly set on the threshold and with the breech touching the casing. If, with the gun so set, the rib runs parallel with the casing, the gun is said to be pitched straight. If the muzzle contacts before the breech does, the gun is pitched up. Again, if with the breech against the casing, the muzzle is away from it, the gun is pitched down and the distance between the casing and the muzzle is the amount of down pitch. Few grouse guns are ever pitched up and the average is from straight pitch to a down pitch of from one and a half to two inches. The pitch of a gun has no direct bearing on the way it will shoot but a gun with a straight pitch or that is pitched up has a long toe. When the gun is brought back smartly to seat on the shoulder the long toe may make the contact first and tends to throw the muzzle up.”

A Quick Swing

“Although the grouse does not get up with the rocket-like speed that is often attributed to it, one jumping well ahead cannot be dallied with. It gets out of range soon enough, but more likely it will get behind some obstruction even sooner. That is what tempts the gunner into snap shooting, usually to his sorrow, whereas he should tone down his burst into action with greater care. This brings to attention the most common and useful grouse shot, the corrected snap or, more correctly, the quick swing. With this shot the shooter can start with all the quickness the nervous impulse imparts. As with the snap shot, the gun comes to the eye level with great speed and with an approximate aim established, but instead of pulling the trigger the instant the gun is up, as the snap shooter does, a brief time is taken for a more precise aim. In this very short period of time the muzzle of the gun becomes a part of the picture, out of focus though it be. Somewhere over it, the vision is fixed on the bird. Is it rising? Is it dropping? Is it swinging to one side or the other, or is it going straight away? As quickly as the situation is comprehended the aim that has been roughly established by the first burst to action is corrected to one of comparative accuracy. With a quick swing the mark is overtaken and led and when this is done the trigger is pressed, and not before. So quickly is this correction made that an observer might easily mistake it for the snap shot, but that correction, accomplished by a quick readjusting swing, even while the trigger is being pressed,  often is the difference between a successful shot, neatly made, or a good chance wasted.  The quick swing of the corrected snap shot is the typical one in grouse shooting behind a dog and is the one that should be practiced and cultivated by those who expect to meet with grouse shooting success.”

Two Tricky Shots

“There are two especially tricky shots in the grouse hunter’s category. One is presented by the bird that pitches out of a tall pine and makes a power dive for the ground before leveling off. To be kept in range he must be shot at while in this dive and must be held under to an unbelievable distance. It is a very satisfying shot when made, for it calls for the acme of skill. The other fairly common shot that tests the shooter’s ability is the one offered when a grouse comes off a stone wall or out of a ‘rimming’ and skims an open field, barely clearing the ground. Probably because the shooter has a natural aversion to shooting low he is more apt than not to overshoot such a bird. The lead in this case is lateral if the ground be level and it is just a case of remembering to hold low enough.”

More Shots in the Course of a Day

“The answer is that successful grouse shooting is far more dependent on woodcraft than shooting skill. To be sure, the hunter has to hit the bird before he pockets it, but he has to get a fair shot before he can make it.  There are numerous grouse hunters who get their full share of game but who admit, themselves, that they are but indifferent shots. Their success comes from the fact that they know grouse hunting and, because they are familiar with the habits of the bird, get more shots in the course of a day from which they scratch down a bag. On the other hand there is a group of much better shots who are never in the right place for a shot, always upset by something or other, so that their superior wing-shooting skill is seldom exercised. It is the grouse hunter who can shoot well and who is in the right place at the right time who does best day in and day out.

Ready at Every Split Second

“One real test of a good grouse shot is how well he can shoot from any position. When a dog has a bird nicely located and the shooter walks in on good footing an open grouse shot should be comparatively easy for any who do not get too panicky over the prospect. However, if the dog is buried in some tangle of brush and the bird jumps off to the side at the instant the shooter is reeling around on a rotten stump between two clumps of birches, then there is a decidedly altered situation. It so happens that a grouse, even before a staunch point, does not get up when the shooter plants his feet and says, ‘pull.’ The next few steps that the shooter takes, keeping his feet clear and his arms free, ready at every split second to go into action, are the ones that tell the story of a grouse hunter’s knowledge of his game. The ability to make the shot that follows is important, but how the gunner maneuvers himself so that he can make it is more so.”

The Secret of Brush Shooting

“A typical grouse shot is one in which the flight of the bird may be followed vaguely through the cover but without a clear view of it at any time. Here the capable brush shot shines. The bird is in good range and he knows it. He follows it with the necessary lead, refusing to be bewildered or confused by the intervening screen of brush. He carries out his calculations and shoots with the same confidence he would if the bird were in the open. His chances are about as good, too, for shot has an extraordinary way of penetrating effectively what looks to be a hopeless barrier. A safe rule that can be followed is to shoot through cover where the flight of the bird can be followed, providing the mark is known to be in conservative shooting range. When such a shot is fired the experienced grouse gunner will listen as well as watch, for often the results are told by the sound of the bird clicking through the distant cover on its undeterred flight or else by the solid thud on the ground. The secret of this kind of brush shooting is forgetting the existence of all cover that will not permit the penetration of the shot charge to the mark.