Bird Hunting Tips: How to Walk in the Uplands

Time for another reader question. This is one I probably should have answered on video, but I’ll take a stab at it here.

TM asked: "How should you walk, stand and hold your gun when jump shooting grouse? How about when walking up to a dog on point?"

Good question.

The one word answer to the question “How do you hold your gun?” is “Safely.”

Here are two quick examples of how it’s not done:

Years ago I hunted pheasants with a trapshooter who would mount his gun, click off the safety, then walk in on a point. It struck me then as a great way to trip and set the gun off accidentally, and totally unnecessary. You have a lot of time to shoot when a pheasant flushes close by.
Much more recently I hunted grouse with a former Marine who held his shotgun as he was trained to hold his M4, with the muzzle pointed at the ground. The first time he walked in on a point muzzle down, finger on the trigger, I stopped him and explained that carrying a shotgun that way risked sweeping the muzzle past the dog and possibly shooting it.

I walk into points with my muzzle held slightly above horizontal, so it will be safely above the dog but also below the bird so it doesn’t ever block my vision. The first move is to point the muzzle at the bird, then I bring the gun up to my face to make the shot. Just as important as where you hold the gun is where you hold your eyes. Keep them up, not down studying the grass in front of the dog’s nose. Then, the flushing bird flies up into your vision, not out of it in a blur.

Ideally, that’s how I would hold my gun in the grouse woods, too: at a sort of low port arms position. However, holding a gun while walking through wide-open fields and holding a gun in the grouse woods are two different tasks. Good grouse cover is thick and full of inconveniently placed young trees. No matter how ready you try to be, there will come a time when you are tangled up in brush, or behind a tree, or holding the gun in one hand while pulling a stick out of your eye with the other, and a grouse will flush. It happens. The only thing to do is to tell yourself that such occurrences are part of the fun of grouse hunting.

One reason light, short barreled guns are popular with grouse hunters isn’t so much that they are quick to get on target (honestly, if I had to shoot a target quickly I would want a heavy gun) but because they are easy to hold with your trigger hand while you fend off brush with your other hand. I have such a gun, an SKB 100 in 20 gauge with 25-inch barrels, and it’s the last gun I want for shooting crossing doves, but it’s perfect for fighting through the tangles, and completely adequate for the kind of straightaway and quartering shots you usually take in the grouse woods. The Benelli UltraLight is another gun that’s perfect for heavy cover, even in a 12 gauge.

As you negotiate cover, try to keep moving steadily, only stopping in places where you have a clear shot. Pausing often unnerves grouse and makes them flush, so only pause where you can shoot, otherwise you only increase the chance that a bird will take off while you are unable to shoot at it.