An Exploration into the Personal Ethics and Community of Upland Hunting Shotguns
Lately there has been an increasing amount of “heat” around newer upland hunters and more “refined’ parts of the industry. Now the rant that could follow that statement could be contained in volumes. Instead, we have decided to take the approach of debunking one-by-one over the course of time and space so as not to cause an even larger and more hostile panic from the old guard. This first myth is the idea that you need to shoot a double gun to be a bird hunter. The conversation certainly has some depth to it as that perception increases and decreases via subculture. But here’s the short form summary of this whole article – shoot whatever shotgun that works for you.
I will start first in the area I’m most seasoned – grouse hunting. Double guns are a beautiful thing. I personally made the switch some six or so years ago. It’s possible I would have sooner, but money was always a factor. Before I toted my first over-and-under, I shot an 870 pump Youth Model 20-gauge. It’s still in my safe and I still use it on the rare occasion I deer hunt. It kills deer, and ruffed grouse, without discrimination. No grouse has yet to cry “fowl.”
Some years back, I handed a semi-automatic shotgun to one of my camera guys. A grouse got up and he shot it (on the wing) with one shot. Later that day another camera man shot his first grouse with an 870 pump (again on the wing). Then a bird got shot in the road, with a double gun, it was that gentleman’s first . . .
All versions of the above story are potentially frowned upon in the eyes of the “old guard” based on choice of gun and position of the grouse. Fact of the matter is that Fox, Parker, and L.C. Smith typically don’t make good entry level shotguns, neither do expensive Italian-crafted over-and-unders or European side-by-sides. And regarding the grouse, can you honestly say you’ve never shot a grouse in the “pre-flight” position? If yes, more power to you. Either way, we only ask that you remember where you started and where somebody else might be on the spectrum of newbie to pro.
There are certainly ethics to be observed when you take to the field. Also laws that are required and not suggested. But ethics are relative to the person, not the whole world of grouse hunting. Just because one has advanced their “ethics” to only shooting grouse over a staunch pointing dog while carrying a vintage side-by-side and kneeling as the setter returns the bird to hand, doesn’t mean that someone else’s method is wrong. The reality is most ruffed grouse rarely behave for anyone and, statistically speaking, the setter most likely didn’t bring the bird back to hand. (Sorry, I love setters, but we all know it’s true). The even bigger reality is that those judgmental folks often seem to have amnesia about how they arrived at their current ethical framework.
Personal standards choose a double gun, not the rules of grouse hunting. No one is shooting up hordes of grouse because they have semi-automatics. The ruffed grouse himself sees to that, challenging as he is. Additionally, birds will always be shot off roads (unless it’s outlawed) no matter the gauge, action, or age of a shotgun. And quite frankly, if you think any of the above is the true threat to the future of ruffed grouse populations – wake up, there are bigger issues.
Semi-automatics catch the most flack in the upland world. Less so in the Western states and especially in the South. Our recent film “Flushing Grouse” particularly caught some isolated flack. According to some, you cannot use a semi-automatic to shoot at ruffed grouse! Imagine now if they are public land quail, and the hunters are following up singles like selfish heathens! Perhaps it would be more acceptable at the $3000 per day plantation where the birds are “managed” in different manners? But then again, if you can afford $3000 a day for quail hunting, you can afford the British best doubles . . . No need for that all-around semi-auto when you can afford a gun for each day of the week.
I cannot say I’ve ever heard or seen a rant from those chukar folks, who some days seem like more of a sadist than those in the grouse hunting community, about what gun you can and cannot use. They seem more concerned with running up impossible terrain while trying not to break an ankle than to worry about that double standard.
The same goes for the pheasant hunting world. Not that I’ve ever shot a wild pheasant, but some of the New England stocked birds I happen upon in woodcock covers certainly can take the heat. I will take any shots I’m afforded and that seems to be the sentiment of the general community.
In short, you should shoot the shotgun that works for you. You should make your decision based on what matters to you whether it’s price, fit, or anything else that has nothing to do with my life. Upland hunting is a single user experience with a very large and intertwined community. Follow the laws, be mindful of the conservation issues that surround your pursuit and don’t forget about ethics. Just don’t let someone else’s passing judgment determine your morals and value system.
Sure I shoot a side-by-side these days, but that’s my bubble and while I write this my semi-auto is sitting by my desk ready to be cleaned after a solid turkey hunting season.
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