The ruffed grouse is the wisest of all the upland birds, of which all have brains and as a winged sprinter is the quickest away from scratch of anything that flies. While the quail dodges with phenomenal suddenness when anything obstructs its path, the wind may sometimes unbalance a jack snipe, giving it an irregular flight, the ruffed grouse does it all deliberately and maliciously. With gunner and ruffed grouse, as with pitcher and batter, it is a guessing game and whichever outguesses comes off the victor.
Flush a quail in the thick woods and should there be an opening he may fly straight down it; a partridge might also, but be sure he will not. I have seen one of the birds sitting before a dogís point in a perfectly open spot, but there was a tree within twenty feet. I planned to get a shot at him before he could reach that tree, and ordered the dog to draw in while I stood with gun ready. The wise old scoundrel got up with provoking deliberation, spread his tail, legged it around behind the tree, and then took wing with a tremendous hurrah.
In Ruffed Grouse shooting, knowledge of the birdís habits will avail more than shooting skill. The hunter should have that rare sort of ruffed grouse wisdom that few are born with and fewer ever acquire. One can always luckily select the spot where the fish will bite if there are any, and the old partridge hunter can forever place himself in just the spot to get his opportunity while all the other hunters have to take what happens to come.
The thing for the ruffed grouse hunter to do is to shoot and never count shells. Should the bird fly behind a tree and not reappear shoot the tree in two if you can. When he simply roars in beyond the limbs, make no hesitation for that is the very place to kill him. Swing along on the line of flight, so much of it as you have seen, take it for granted that he is still going the same course at the same rate of speed, and when you know you are right pull with as much confidence as though the bird were yet in plain sight. Then listen for the bird to fall Ė and sometimes he will. If he doesnít, simply blame the limbs; they have no shooting conceit to be aggrieved. Seeing sparkles and flashes of light, glinting through the woods, left there by the ruffed grouseís wings, shoot as far ahead as your conscience will let you, and more likely another bird will be added to the bag.
In the rare times you catch the ruffed grouse in the open, as in a little isolated clumps from which he must fly, or along old, overgrown fence rows, he is no more difficult a target than a quail or prairie chicken. He is quicker way form the gun in heavy cover, but in full flight has no greater speed than either of the others. Generally no great amount of lead need be taken, but the shots the ruffed grouse affords are of such diversified character that there can be no such thing as systematic ruffed grouse shooting.
The marksman must simply suit his style to the nature of the shot as it comes. At the odd times when an easy shot appears, make sure of that bird, with all the precision and steadiness possessed, for he is the bird that should add weight to the back coat pocket.
When there is but a ten foot opening in the trees, snap the bird there, no matter what the odds against a kill; that is where the fun comes in and the rare pleasure of a kill that happens seldom. The ruffed grouse, by the way is the only bird upon which the ethics of sportsmanship should tolerate the use of a cylinder bored gun. When this bird is killed fairly upon the wing I should not feel disposed to lecture the man who used a bell muzzled piece.
Like the grouse hunter, the partridge dog just happens to be one. If nature hasnít done a great deal for him, man can do little. Training can teach a dog to hunt close to the gun, to flush to order, and to be stanch, and then he may or may not be a partridge dog.
It is well to hunt ruffed grouse with a reliable companion, one that can be depended upon not to shoot you first and feel sorry afterwards. The right kind of a hunting partner will enable both guns to secure better results, since the second gun will often get its chance wile the wily bird is outmaneuvering the other. Further advantages, such as marking the birds, will be obvious without dwelling upon them.
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