1. Wing shooting is challenging, but fun! Missing is part of the process. Don’t get discouraged! After all, this is supposed to be fun. Shooting is 90% mental (or rather instinctual) and 10% mechanical. If you are missing, don’t stress out or over-think it. Just relax, believe in yourself, have fun, follow your instincts, and you will start hitting.
2. You don’t aim a shotgun, you point it! Keep both eyes open and point the gun where you are looking with your cheek firmly planted on the butt of the stock of the gun.
3. A shooting slump will not last forever. This too shall pass! Keep in mind that it is almost impossible to shoot ahead of a bird. If you are missing, it’s because you are most likely shooting behind. Just keep swinging and you’ll eventually catch up.
4. Likewise, a hot streak of shooting― while fun― will not last forever either. If you average one out of every four or five birds you shoot at, you’re doing as well as most other hunters out there.
5. Wild birds are infinitely better than pen-raised. While training with and hunting pen-raised birds may be fun, it can never supplant the real thing. There’s just no comparison.
6. Understand that Nature’s way is for game to be scarce. On most days, you will not find an overabundance of birds. This fact has led to the common expression, “sometimes birds, sometimes feathers.” Also, this fact is what makes those days of abundance that much more special. If you find a bird bonanza, count your blessings, say a prayer of thanks, and savor the moment.
7. Boot leather gets birds. Those hunters willing to hike higher or farther will find and take more birds in the long run.
8. Remember all life is sacred. Respect the great game birds we pursue. Never take more than what you are allowed by law. If you are fortunate to take one of these great birds, don’t just stuff them indifferently into your game bag, but always smooth their feathers and admire their beauty. If you wound one, go to great lengths to bring that bird to hand. Always eat what you kill with gratitude.
A beautiful gray phase ruffed grouse from Idaho. The birds are just a bonus.
10. The key to wild birds is HABITAT. The timeless words of the movie, The Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come” are appropriate for bird hunting. In other words, if you create the habitat, the birds will come.
11. Give back to Nature. Support organizations like Pheasants Forever, The Ruffed Grouse Society, the North American Grouse Partnership, Quail Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, and the numerous land trusts that are creating and preserving habitat. We can’t succeed without the help of such organizations.
12. Be the kind of hunting partner you want to have. No one likes a game hog, a braggart, a drill sergeant, a whiner, or someone who is dangerous with their gun. A good, considerate, ethical hunting companion makes a day afield that much better. Whereas, a bad companion leaves a bad taste in your mouth for days to come.
13. Take pictures and write in a journal. The hunting memories that you are making right now will become little treasures that you will remember in days to come. Be sure to take pictures and write down in a journal your experiences and I promise that those treasures will only grow more priceless over the years.
15. Bird hunting makes you see and recognize unappreciated beauty. Bird hunting takes you to places and makes you see things that you would have never seen unless you were afield pursuing a bird. You will begin to find beauty in places that the world cannot appreciate; weedy, unkempt, tangled, thick, gnarly places, will soon take on a tantalizing appeal.
16. Name your coverts. Naming your covers, or coverts (those secret hunting places of your heart), after a prominent geographic feature or a special experience is half the fun. Pretty soon your covers will have names like: The Royal Macnab, Grouseketeer Ridge, Sunrise Ridge, Hope’s Hill, Grouse Springs, Grouse Rock, The Mini Flat Tops, The Lloyd Christmas Cover, The Sunset Strip, Madman Land, The Trail to Quail, The Knife’s Edge, or even better.
17. Ask for permission to hunt and respect the landowner’s property. Remember that if you never ask a landowner for a permission to hunt good looking cover on private property, the answer is always “no.” On the flip side, remember that if you don’t ask a landowner for permission to hunt his property, but do it anyway, the answer in the future will always be “no.” Most landowners respect a hunter who will come to his front door, look him in the eye, and ask for permission because he knows that this this hunter will respect his property. Respect a landowner’s property, his cattle and horses, his fences and gates and you will be a welcome guest for years to come.
18. Learn the value of classic bird hunting books. In time, you will come to learn that a good book about bird hunting, especially in the off season, is almost as good as hunting itself. Seek out the classics like Burton L. Spiller, George Bird Evans, Corey Ford, Gene Hill, William G. Tapply and others. You won’t regret it!
20. You hold the future of bird hunting in your hands. Whether your own children and grandchildren will be able to hunt is up to you. You must take action to preserve this way of life both legally and to preserve the prerequisite habitat for birds to thrive. As for potential future hunters, like your own experience with your mentor, you must be the one to show them the way.