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A Bird in the Hand

The thunderous launch is startling, one moment you’re peacefully strolling through the woods and the next a whirlwind of noise, leaves and shaking branches explodes. A miniature bomb drunkenly launched through thick tree branches; mottled patterns of grey, brown and black, its plumage nature’s perfect camouflage. The partridge as my family called them was the first game I hunted and I don’t like admitting how long it took me to bag one. Many a day were spent wandering the woods trying to find a ruffed grouse that I could take a poke at and most encounters didn’t see me even getting the shotgun to my shoulder before the bird was up and gone.

I had my hunting license and a 12 gauge before I had a drivers license, living in a small farm town it was a simple thing to wander out the back yard, making my way through a loop of several kilometres only having to cross the road a time or two. My favourite place was a patch of ugly woods, a few trails, some swamp and scraggly trees. It wasn’t littered with grouse but through persistence I believe I became acquainted with each and every one that lived there. The land belonged to an elderly lady, a friend of my Grandmothers, and during those years before going off to university it was my regular haunt after school and on weekends.

These days I’m living in the mountains on Canada’s west coast, the terrain is vastly different but the birds are the same. Unlike back east we are lucky to have vast tracks of public land to hunt and I take advantage of it as much as possible. With liberal seasons and tags it’s difficult to trade the rifle for shotgun but on a recent day trip for blacktails I was exposed to some wonderful grouse terrain. A sunny day off with my wife was the perfect opportunity to go for a bit of a road trip and a wander. We packed some snacks, a thermos of coffee and headed out for the afternoon.

The land is vastly different from the coastal rainforest surrounding our home, dry with big steep mountains we followed a rough singletrack road until finding a spur that tickled our fancy. In two months of hunting I’d only been out for two grouse forays and hadn’t seen a thing. My hopes were high for this spot and we slowly walked up the mountain for close to two kilometres. Finally just before turning around I got my first shot and my first bird of the season which erased the doubtful thoughts that were creeping in about seeing anything.

The walk back down was timed with the last couple hours of daylight that are magic for grouse. We came across a few more birds and I was lucky enough to bag one more. Five shots for two birds is pretty good in my books and I was happy that we now had enough for a meal. While I love the excitement of duck hunting and eating wild ducks, ruffed grouse are my favourite birds on the table. Due to the haunts they call home and their erratic flight patterns they provide some of the most challenging wingshooting there is, I harbour no illusions on my success rate of birds in hands to spent shells and now I was excited to introduce my wife to the culinary delights of wild game with a dinner of my favourite birds.

See you on the water or the mountains.

-Matthew Mallory

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