Ruffed grouse have a well-justified reputation for being the most difficult of all upland birds to hit with anything approaching consistency. A big part of this is because the places a ruffed grouse calls home do not lend themselves to many “easy” shots.
If you hunt grouse often, then a few times each season a ruffed grouse might offer a relatively unobstructed shot as it powers down a logging trail, or towers above a stand of young aspen, but most of the time you are going to be shooting through plenty of branches, leaves, brush, and vines at a target, which is only going to be in range for a few seconds. When a ruffed grouse decides to go, he goes!
Don’t Overreact, Panic
Then to compound the problem, there is the rapid rush of stubby wings, which is the flush of a ruffed grouse. It is a sound that can do funny things to a hunter’s nervous system. More than once, when an unexpected flush has caught me day-dreaming or whatever it is I do when my head is not totally in the game, I have found myself momentarily paralyzed by that explosive rush of energy, which is a ruffed grouse flushing. More often, however, I am guilty of over-reacting, panicking really. When this happens, I snatch the stock to my shoulder with what I can only describe as a violent lurch, and frantically poke a shot or two in the general direction of the departing grouse. Only rarely does momentary paralyzation, or its opposite, the out-of-control, poke-and-hope, result in a warm, soft ruffed grouse lying still in my outstretched hand.
I’ve missed a lot of grouse in my life and God-willing, I will miss a few more. There have been days when my unbroken string of misses made it seem unlikely that I would ever hit a grouse again. But fortunately, there have been far more days when about half of the birds I shot at, hit the ground.
I’m sure that there are bird hunters who routinely hit a higher percentage of the grouse they shoot at, but for me, anytime I’m up around that 40 percent to 50 percent range, I know that I’m shooting about as well as my abilities allow. When I am shooting well on ruffed grouse, several things are occurring pretty much simultaneously.
Hearing Birds Flush Is Key
One, I am hearing the birds flush, and reacting to the sound of the flush by quickly keying in on the direction of the flush, and then making whatever adjustments are necessary in the position of my feet and body to make the shot.
The gun comes up automatically whether I have yet glimpsed the bird or not. With ruffed grouse, if you wait until you actually see the bird before you react, your odds of getting a shot have been dramatically reduced. I’m not recommending that anyone take “sound shots,” but reacting to the sound of the flush by mounting the gun and pointing in the direction from which the bird has flushed will afford you with more opportunities to get off a shot when and if the bird is seen. That is why windy days are my least favorite days for grouse hunting. The wind makes it difficult to hear a grouse flushing and takes away that “hearing edge.”
Hunters who are hard-of-hearing are handicapped when it comes to grouse hunting. Two of my grouse hunting partners are hard-of-hearing. When we hunt together, I almost always see the most grouse, take the most shots, and kill the most birds. It’s not that I am a better hunter or superior shot to either of these guys — I am not — I simply have the advantage of good hearing and can use that hearing to my advantage.
Focus On Shot
When I am shooting well, I tend not to notice the cover. Instead, I pull ahead of the departing grouse and shoot — the cover be damned. Sure I get a lot of leaves and bark, but surprisingly often a few pellets find their way to the grouse and for grouse, a few 7-1/2s is all it takes.
Conversely, when I am shooting poorly, I am usually guilty of looking ahead of the fleeing grouse for some kind of opening that the grouse is going to dart through and then attempt to put a swarm of shot into that opening at the same instant at which the grouse arrives. Rarely do the two coincide, however.
Good luck in the field this fall!
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