In October, Shawn and I had the opportunity to spend a week bird hunting in the uplands of Idaho with author, Tom Davis. If you don’t know, Tom Davis, is one of the finest writers on upland bird hunting now living. He regularly writes for The Pointing Dog Journal, Pheasants Forever, Sporting Classics and The Shooting Sportsman. While the bird hunting left a little to be desired, we enjoyed hunting with Tom and getting to know him a little better.
On the second day of our hunt, we took Tom to an area in Southern Idaho, I call,”Grouse Rock,” which is one of my favorite ruffed and blue grouse covers anywhere. However, unlike year’s past, the grouse were tough to find. The drought has hit the birds hard in Idaho this year. Tom and I hunted one quakie-filled draw in particular where the golden leaves radiated like a leprechaun’s pot of gold. It was simply breathtaking.
Since the hunting was slow, as a lover of outdoor literature, I asked Tom about some of his work that I had read, which was fun for this bird book nerd. Specifically, we talked about an article he wrote in PDJ about some of his favorite bird hunting books. I told him that I agreed that Steve Groom’s, Pheasant Hunter’s Harvest, is the finest book on pheasant hunting. He then reiterated that he felt this book was unjustly overshadowed by a inferior book on pheasant hunting (which shall not be named) which came out around the same time as Groom’s book. I’ve agreed with Tom’s statement since I first read Pheasant Hunter’s Harvest after reading Tom’s article in the PDJ.
Since we were in the grouse woods, I had to ask Tom the question, “Who’s writing do you prefer, Burton Spiller or George Bird Evans?” Tom quickly replied, “Burton Spiller, but, in my opinion, the best writer on ruffed grouse hunting was William Harnden Foster.”
Tom’s answer caught me a little off guard because I am a dyed-in- the-wool Burton Spiller fan and feel that he truly deserves the title, “The Poet Laureate of Ruffed Grouse Hunting.” Spiller’s timeless work speaks to me because–first and foremost–Spiller was a good man who happened to love to hunt ruffed grouse and had a knack for telling a great story. I would have loved to spend a day together in the grouse woods with Burton Spiller, which is not something I can say about every author I have read. Second to Spiller, I would place the late and great George King, the author of That’s Ruff!, who I had the pleasure of speaking with on the phone and corresponding with by email.
As for Tom’s answer, I own a copy and had read William Harnden Foster’s book, New England Grouse Shooting, and considered it as a truly exceptional where-to/how-to book (which admittedly is not my favorite genre), but I would not have placed Foster at the top of my list. Regarding his response, Tom went on to say that: “Everything that Foster wrote was spot on and is still true to this day.” For the most part, I had to agree with Tom on that point, although I stated, with a smile, as we watched my Brittany Misty hunt for grouse in the thick timber, that “Foster did not have anything good to say about my breed of choice.” Tom replied, “True, but at time pointers and setters were the top grouse dogs and little was not known about the continental breeds.” For those of you who don’t know, Foster specifically wrote about the Brittany: “Whatever the virtues of this breed may be, or what future fashion may dictate, the Brittany spaniel has not yet proved anything convincing enough to put him on the same basis for consideration with the setter or pointer. Furthermore, the upland gunner who can feast his eyes on a statuesque point demands that his bird dog have a tail.” Anyway, it was an interesting conversation about great authors while hunting with a truly great writer of our times.
About a week after our hunt with Tom Davis, I was checking Facebook and came across a link to an article on strideaway.com by Tom Davis entitled,”WILLIAM HARNDEN FOSTER.” Of course, after having this conversation with Tom, I was intrigued to read his article. Having now read this article, I can attest that Foster truly was an amazing, multi-talented individual. He was an artist, an editor, a field trialer, the inventor of skeet, a diehard grouse hunter, and a good man. I am glad that Tom Davis took the time to research and write this excellent article and to preserve this part of history that all grouse hunters should know and cherish. I now understand better why Tom Davis considers Foster the best writer on ruffed grouse hunting. In the future, I will read Foster’s book with a new perspective and appreciation. I encourage the followers of Upland Ways to check out this great article on an under-appreciated writer.
I would love to hear your thoughts on who is the best writer on grouse hunting of all times.
Remember the birds are the bonus!