Catch and Release Upland Style

Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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Catch and Release Upland Style

by Barbara Haupt

When training we do not feel any inclination to shoot.
Photo by: Author
One day in October as I glimpsed the dark shadow of another ruffed grouse disappearing through the alders, I had the phenomenally brilliant thought that our local pa’tridge on the midcoast, as opposed to those less educated species of the North Woods, probably have a better survival rate with upland bird hunters than trout do with catch and release fishermen. I pondered the wisdom of the thought just long enough to remember it, and when I reached home with an empty bird bag, started doing a little research with home-style statistics.

When we take to the field during the season, my husband and I write on the calendar the number of birds the dogs point or flush, plus the wild flushes. We do this, (1) because we want to keep yearly records, (2) we like to compare what each dog produces, and (3) we have rotten memories. We also record any birds we bring to the table during the upland plus the waterfowl season. My son, the fisherman, does essentially the same thing.

Suffice it to say, the odds of my shooting then hitting a flying grouse (the only kind I shoot) are in the double digits to one. Now, I have more than fair dogs, I’m not that bad a shot, and I’ve been around the birds a few years now. That makes me wonder about the numbers for all the “sporting” grouse hunters out there who don’t have good dogs, and are not familiar with the bird or its habits. Their shooting ability doesn’t have to come into question; I KNOW their odds aren’t so hot either.

The Novice on Grouse

Last season my husband took two southerners, who had never hunted ruffed grouse, with him for a sun drenched late October day in the field. The New England sugar maples had shed most of their flaming leaves, but the shades of gold on the oaks and the bronze of the birch and aspen were still evident. A dazzling highland panorama brought the group to a halt when they emerged from the thick hillside cover onto an expansive wild blueberry barren. In the foreground, the entire hillside was blanketed with low berry bushes sporting tiny deep red leaves. In the background, distant hills resembled clusters of multicolored florets.

The odds were a little better with our liver and white shorthair.
Photo by: Author
The three men soaked up the scene with one part of their minds, the remainder still focused on the woods behind them and the grouse the spaniel flushed only moments before. Neither southerner had time to mount his gun, but one did manage an exclamatory, “There’s one!” That’s catch and release upland style.

The liver and white spaniel had flashed through the cover pressuring anything on the hillside. He never exceeded gun range, but his speed and efficiency challenges the most experienced bird hunter. He produced the grouse, but the action was all too fast for the visitors. When the spaniel scented the bird, only his owner recognized the signs and he didn’t carry a gun that day.
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