By now most bird hunters have made their way into the logging roads and field edges in pursuit of that ever elusive, fighter jet of a game bird, the ruffed grouse. Similarly, most have found we are a bit rusty at wing shooting and have had our serving of humble pie. Getting back to these basics will help you put more birds in your bag.
Gun position & awareness
That marching cadence from my basic combat training days, “Ain’t no use in looking down, ain’t no discharge on the ground!”, rings true for walking the tote roads looking for a flush. Remaining focused on the edges as you move along is more intensive than you may realize. Keeping your footing to prevent tripping or a nasty fall adds more for you to think about and lessens your focus as well. Keep your eyes up and scanning for that rascal to break from cover. It most decidedly will not flush from 12 inches in front of your toes.
Invariably, after a long walk your gun position will start to sag like a sunflower in October. Instead of keeping that shotgun at “port arms” and at the ready, the muzzle slowly dips and the gun moves closer to the body, the arms seeking relief from the constant strain of holding a hunk of metal and wood away from the chest.
Be aware of losing focus and gun position. When it happens, take a break. Have a sip of water and enjoy the scenery. Run some flush scenarios through your mind and think about how to best react to them. After all, it’s not a race.
After you are rested, get your focus back and get that gun up at the ready. The first step you take may flush a grouse that was holding close and got spooked when you stepped off.
Mounting the gun
When that partridge bursts out of the edge, the sound that thunder chicken makes startles the best of us. Making the transition from the ready to the shoulder quickly and properly is crucial to putting that bird in your bag.
First, you already have the gun away from your body and at the ready. Next, push the gun out and up, then step into it. As you bring the gun up and step forward, you should be swinging the muzzle in the anticipated direction of the grouse’s flight path while disengaging the safety. A good cheek to stock weld with the butt of the shotgun securely in the pocket of your shoulder is what you should be trying for every time.
As always, keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction and if hunting with a partner or over a dog, be aware of your safe zones of fire.
Getting ahead of the bird
Upland bird hunting, when it coincides with rifle seasons on deer, moose & bear, sometimes has a tendency to make us want to aim our shotguns at grouse instead of pointing them. With the exception of turkey hunting, remember to aim rifles and point shotguns. “Ready! Aim! Miss!”
When you put a bird up and it’s hitting the afterburners, you have to get in front of it before you squeeze the trigger. If you touch off that shotgun while your front bead is on the grouse, your pellets will be where the bird was. Trust your instinct, point the gun at where the bird is going and get the shot off quick.
Think of it like you were at the plate hitting a fastball. Your brain, eyes and hands all have a naturally built in coordination. There is no time to aim the bat at the ball, you just hit it.
Trying to aim a shotgun at a fast moving target will end in a spent shell with nothing to show for it.
Are you doing all the right things and still missing the bird? You are most likely stopping the gun as you are preparing to squeeze the trigger. Follow through, as in both shooting clay birds or real ones, is just as important as getting the gun up, pointing and getting ahead.
The advantage you gained on that grouse rocket by getting ahead of it is lost when you stop the gun. Be sure to focus on keeping the gun moving as you squeeze the trigger and “swing through” the target.
When the grouse flushes straight and away, cover the bird with the muzzle. If the bird is moving left or right, try to keep an inch of daylight between the grouse and your muzzle. Keep the gun there as you fire and you will be on your way to filling your daily bag…and your freezer.