Getting Started Ruffed Grouse Hunting
Growing up in Montana I had access to hunting sharptail grouse, sage grouse, Hungarian partridge, doves, and pheasants. My hunting buddy had dogs multiple hunting dogs that allowed us to hunt these birds. After moving away for college and getting out of upland hunting I thought it would be a tough endeavor to get back into hunting birds. Thinking that I would need a hunting dog, possibly some new hunting gear, and definitely more grouse hunting knowledge I was stuck waiting.
After talking about never shooting a ruffed grouse for years, my wife suggested we take a drive up north shore and take a walk with my old Remington 870 shotgun. I stopped at a few spots with public land and walked a few trails. After a few miles of hiking, I had seen and shot the total number of birds I was expecting, which was zero. The concept of shooting in thick cover was foreign to me. I was familiar with Montana’s wide open landscape and the idea of trying to shoot through gaps in trees to shoot a small camouflaged bird zig-zagging through the branches seemed impossible.
During my last walk of the morning, I followed a trail through the woods but decided to get off-trail and do a small loop before connecting back with the trail. I started heading down the side of a hill. I was looking down at my feet to work my way downhill when I stopped and looked up. There, standing on the top of a log was a ruffed grouse. Standing upright, equally surprised to see me. After talking longer than it should have to realize that I needed to shoulder my shotgun the bird took off. I took an initial terrible shot and then was able to take a slightly more deliberate one. I thought that I had made a good shot, but then was in the position of realizing that I now needed to do the work that I had always relied on a dog to do for me. I needed to search for the bird that I was pretty sure that I had shot, but was not certain. If you are a seasoned grouse hunter then you know how well these birds blend into the understory cover of the northland woods. Luckily, after a few minutes of looking, I was able to find my bird.
After years of not bird hunting because I didn’t have a hunting dog, or didn’t know where to start was now behind me. I now had the confidence that it’s was possible and that’s all that I needed. I continued to hunt and time after time I was able to find birds, and for the most part put at least one bird in the vest.
One common problem seemed to be firing an initial wild shot into the air after I heard the surprising burst of wing flaps only to then fully acquire my target and take a second more precise shot. I’m sure that many of you have already figured this out, but it seems to be a fairly common problem. It can be difficult to train yourself, but you do have more time than you realize to make a good shot (in most cases), and one good shot is better than two mediocre ones.
Bringing the Dog
We have two dogs, both of them are mutts. Neither of them were meant for hunting, but when we got Fawn (our newest dog) a few years ago it was in the back of my mind to find a hunting dog. Even the rescue had listed her as “hunting breed”, which I found out later was just a general marketing term to get dogs into caring homes. Well, we brought Fawn home and after a few years of believing that she wasn’t an actual hunting dog, I decided to take her with me the next time I went out looking for birds.
I hadn’t done any training with Fawn, but she always seemed sad to see me grab my hiking boots and head out. She also seemed very interested in where I was after coming home smelling of birds with feathers falling out of my vest. Even if she didn’t know what she was doing, neither did I, so it seemed like a good fit.
The first day she came with me I was primarily worried about how well she should do once the gun went off. and hoping she wouldn’t run off after the first shot. It didn’t take long for us to jump our first bird. I took two shots and watched as the bird slowly started to land, I wasn’t sure if I had hit it on the second shot or not. Fawn didn’t know what was going on, but fortunately didn’t run away and helped looked for the bird (at least for a while). While I was off looking for the bird I heard another bird flush, then a dog flash by. Fawn had decided against looking for the bird she knew I clearly missed and decided to go find a bird of her own. We flushed one of two more birds that day, but I wasn’t able to get a bird for Fawn.
We weren’t done yet though. I was confident that Fawn would figure it out. Our next Fawn was able to flush a couple of birds. I made a good shot and watched as the bird fell. Fawn! I called to see what she would do when she finally saw the bird. I could almost see the wheels turning as she sniffed the bird, just as I had come to realize the possibilities earlier, she had figured out what we were doing out there, and just like me that she wanted more.
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