by Naomi K. Shapiro
When you're walking through the woods, you're generally trekking through thickets, trees, brush, heavy cover, or tag alders waiting to flush a grouse that you literally then have to shoot instinctively. And yes, of course I know that there are those who prefer to push the "edge of the envelope" stratagem and use either a rifle or a bow and arrow. Good for them, and they have my respect. But I have found, over the years, that if you want to get grouse on a consistent basis, the only thing you should be using is a shotgun. OK, OK - -I can hear the screaming and yelling, and the "what the 'expletive deleted' does she know" comments. Again, do your thing. Go for it. I've got your back. But for me, I'm interested in giving myself the best possible chance to get my limit – I love grouse- - both for the excitement of the hunt, and the fact that they are the finest tasting game bird on planet earth. At least I believe that. After speaking to many experienced hunters and guides (some of whom have at least tried to hunt grouse with a rifle or bow and arrow), I've come away with the conclusion that the shotgun remains the firearm of choice to maximize grouse hunting success. Here are some cogent reasons why I think as I do.
Most experienced hunters are neither Annie Oakley nor Buffalo Bill. I know I can't shoot a "quarter" that's tossed in the air with a rifle - - or bow and arrow or pistol for that matter. And my friends, that is STILL EASIER than trying to shoot a grouse that flushes, and moves in what seems to be every direction at once- - and fast, too! I firmly believe that getting that grouse with a rifle or bow and arrow is an almost impossible shot (I grant that there are hunters who can do it, of course - -but comparatively speaking they are in a very exclusive minority), but not with a shotgun.
Let's assume that you're an expert rifle or bow and arrow shot. When you shoot at a grouse, it's in the air- - rising from the ground every-which-way. And let's say you hit it with a rifle bullet. That will, after striking the grouse probably travel up to a mile further on, and can be a literal "deadly round" as you're shooting up and away. Remember a grouse is not a deer, or even a turkey, or goose with a heavy body or shields of dense feathers that will stop a bullet.
As for a bow and arrow. It's just plain difficult to use it in a tangled forest setting. You have to try to find a hole in the thicket, or brush, or tag alder swamp area, or tree limbs- - whatever. And in the meantime the grouse when flushed will move upwards and sideways, seemingly at the same time. You're not going to have a clear shot, with all those obstacles in your way (don't forget that when you deer hunt in the woods, you'll often "cut out" a line-of-fire opening to make sure you have a clear shot without obstacles. You can't do that with grouse). And where will your arrow go? Like a bullet, it'll travel some distance—which again can be very dangerous. Bottom line is that I don't want to take the chance of hitting someone by using a rifle or bow and arrow in this type of situation. And please -- I'm no "scaredy cat" - -but I do adhere to the primary axiom that each and every hunter in each and every situation must adhere to: SAFETY!
Also remember when you fire a rifle or use a bow and arrow, you're firing one projectile. With a shotgun you're got a shell full of pellets that'll spread out in a pattern that can be the size of a dinner plate.
Another good comparison is when you hunt ducks and geese. Almost all of the time, you'll see these waterfowl from a long distance, and they will fly in a straight line, and land in the "clear," with cupped wings and the like. And they're right in front of you. You've got a clear shot. With grouse, they're going to startle you when they flush, and I don't care HOW experienced you are – it happens constantly to even the most experienced grouse hunter. You've got one split second to aim and shoot, and then they're gone in that tangled mess of brush, trees and thickets. And with a rifle or bow and arrow, your chances for a successful shot are diminished considerably. One very well known, and highly experienced ruffed grouse hunting guide told me that even using a shotgun in these situations means clear misses for many, even experienced grouse hunters.
And finally, here is a suggestion to make you a better grouse hunter when using a shotgun. There's an old axiom which you should follow: "Practice, practice, practice." Clay pigeons, sporting clays, skeet and trap - - join a shooting club, or go out on a licensed range. Grouse hunting is a lot of fun, but it's not easy. And as for my good friends who use a rifle or bow and arrow- - I do know how difficult grouse hunting must be for you- - and yet, when you're successful I can also well imagine the satisfaction that you must have knowing that you've done something that most (including me) could never do. For me? I'm like a member of the "great unwashed" (not literally of course, but you know what I mean). I'll still use my shotgun and small pellet loads. I hope whatever we all use, that we can still enjoy hunting grouse – a great experience no matter how many times you do it.