Monday, November 28, 2016

Grouse Hunting with the Village Gun

The Village Gun is my name for an old Springfield 84-C.  My father acquired the rifle and a state of the art Weaver 3/4 inch straight tube scope for $7.50 during the Depression. I have written in previous articles that the Village Gun was used by my father and the neighbors for deer hunting.

The Village Gun wasn't primarily used for deer hunting. There are dozens of things a .22 rifle is used for on a farm at the edge of wild country.  The Village gun was probably used for most of them, over the roughly 60 years of its Wisconsin existence.  One of those things was hunting ruffed grouse. It was illegal to hunt ruffed grouse with a rifle in Wisconsin. It is one of those laws that had good intentions. It is a bad idea to fire a rifle randomly into the air. A high powered rifle, shot into the body of a grouse, results in a bloody, inedible mess. But a .22 rimfire rifle, used judiciously, can take grouse regularly and safely, and produce edible results. I know. I did a lot of it, even though it was technically illegal at the time. I never exceeded the set limit for grouse.

Hunting grouse with a .22 takes more skill than hunting them with a shotgun. A good dog helps immensely.  The hard part is seeing the grouse, within rifle range, before they fly away.  People have shot grouse on the fly, with a rifle, but I am not one of them. I do not recommend it.

The grouse pictured above is fairly typical. When they are on the alert, the head is held high, the neck stretched up. This is a picture taken during January, and the feathers are fluffed up. Don't shoot for the neck! Inside those feathers the neck is very thin, and easy to miss. The head is a good target. Head shots are fairly common.  The eye is a good place to aim. Remember to consider your target three dimensionally. When you are dressing out your first couple of grouse, examine them closely to understand their anatomy. It will help in knowing where to aim.

I have missed a fair number.  The nice thing about a .22 in the woods is that it is relatively quiet.  The grouse often fell on the second shot.

Pick a hole between the twigs and branches.  It is surprising how much a twig can deflect a bullet. When you are shooting at a small target, hitting a twig means a probable miss. A scope makes it easier to miss twigs and branches that can be masked by iron sights.

If you are hunting with a rifle, and shooting into the air, you need to know the country and the direction you are shooting.  You do not want to accidentally shoot someone or break a neighbors window. It doesn't apply only to grouse. Squirrels are shot out of trees as well.  I knew where the neighbor houses were, and how far a bullet would travel.  The warnings on .22 LR boxes today say they can travel a mile and a half.  That is under optimum conditions with a lot of safety factor thrown in.

It is very hard to get a .22 LR to travel more than a mile.  A mile was the standard warning for many years. At the end of the mile a .22 LR bullet will be traveling at about 200- 240 feet per second. It could put your eye out, but is unlikely to be fatal.  For common .22 LR ammo, a mile is the max range. At angles higher than 35 degrees, the range decreases.  Fired at higher angles, the terminal velocity will likely be less than 200 fps.

I did not know that when I was 12.  I knew a bit about trajectories from firing countless pebbles from slingshots. The .22 cartridge box said 1 mile, so I was careful to avoid shooting in the air toward neighbors houses. It was easy. There were only three within a mile, all of them on one side of the Namekagon River, and South of where I lived. So all shots aimed toward Northeast or around the compass, toward North, or West, toward South were good. .22 LR bullets fired at above 60 degrees are likely to fall within a half mile, at velocities under 200 fps.  You would not want to get hit by one, but they are unlikely to penetrate a hat or jacket.

I recall the first grouse that I shot. It was fall and grouse season, late afternoon. One of my brothers came running into the house, saying that there was a grouse behind the log cabin (a shed we used for storage, sided with slab wood).

I grabbed the Village Gun, and loaded a couple of cartridges into the magazine. I was out the door in a few seconds. Grouse, once flushed, will not sit in a tree forever. I carefully approached the referenced spot. I used the shed for cover. Then, very stealthily, moving behind it, searched the trees for the bird. There it was! Sitting in birch tree about 20 feet off the ground.  I picked the base of the neck for the shot. The Village Gun was dead on at 15 yards, and the bird fell when the little rifle spat.

The bullet was headed North Northwest, and I knew there were no houses in that direction for miles. Once a .22 bullet hits something, it is almost certainly de-stablized.  The max range is dramatically reduced.

Where grouse have not been hunted hard, a dog is just another four legged predator. My dog and I hunted as a team. A Labrador, he was a natural hunter and retriever. He would range ahead, find a grouse, and tree it. My job was to creep up and shoot it.  It is common for a grouse to fly into a nearby tree and sit there, confident of its invulnerability to the predator on the ground.

My dog quickly taught his boy that he barked differently for grouse or squirrels. His barking would lead me to the spot, even in dense cover.  Grouse had to be approached with more care than squirrels. Knowing what you are looking for makes them easier to spot.

I learned that a .22 does not spoil much meat, even if the grouse is shot through the breast. The point of a folded wing is a good aiming spot, as is a little below the base of the neck from any angle. Head shots make for better bragging rights, but the base of the neck is an easier target. I would not use hypervelocity .22 cartridges for this sort of hunting. Standard velocity is enough, and quieter.

A good dog will quickly retrieve a grouse knocked to the ground, and bring the bird to you.

The bird above is in a crabapple tree.  Crabapples are a favorite food for grouse.  I regularly checked out crabapple locations when grouse hunting.

Much of my grouse hunting was along old logging roads. In many spots, clover had taken root. Clover is another favored grouse food.  The old logging roads had areas of exposed gravel, where grouse would obtain the grit they need to grind up their food. I spent far more time on foot, traveling those old logging roads, than I did on pavement on a bicycle.

Growing up on the edge of semi-wilderness spoiled me for a lot of hunting. Being able to grab your rifle and be hunting once you step out the door, is a wonderful thing.

©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.

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Anonymous said...

In my youth I hunted pheasant with a Western Field bolt action tube magazine .22. I couldn't afford a scope so had to rely on iron sights. I still remember I reworked both the front sight that was missing its bead and the rear sight that had long ago lost its elevation ramp. In rural North Dakota I would drove my dad's old abandoned Model A Ford with Blackie, my lab, in the back seat around the section where only gravel roads existed. Toward sunset, I would drive real slow and watch for birds coming up out of the grass in the road ditch to pick gravel along the side of the road. Head shots were my favorite. I was poor so I fired shorts most of the time - less than a penny a shot for a nice bird to take home to mom.

Dean Weingarten said...

Great story. Thanks for sharing.

I shot a hen pheasant the was flushed into a tree at dusk, once. I thought it was a ruffed grouse!

It must have escaped, as we did not have home grown pheasants in the area.

Unknown said...