Both have feath­ers, but the shoot­ing is very dif­fer­ent

Outdoor Life - - SHOOTING - by JOHN B. SNOW


I get the ap­peal, since I’m lucky enough to live in a place with an abun­dance of sword-tailed roost­ers that grow ar­mor­like feath­ers late in the sea­son, skit­tish Huns that are prone to flush­ing wild in the wheat stub­ble, and grouse that dust on old log­ging roads in the steep­est elk coun­try you’ll ever see. But I’ll never look down my nose at a well-run out­fit with planted birds. They are great places to work young dogs and hunt with older com­pan­ions who can’t hike the up­lands the way they used to. And they pro­vide bird-shoot­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to thousands of sports­men who oth­er­wise can­not ac­cess wild birds. Plenty of hun­ters get to ex­pe­ri­ence a bit of each.

And though both types of hunts in­volve feath­ers, dogs, and smooth­bores, the shoot­ing tech­niques for each are not the same. Th­ese are the key dif­fer­ences.


Wild birds fly harder and flush faster, and most of the time they don’t hold as tight as pre­serve birds, giv­ing the shooter a shorter win­dow of op­por­tu­nity to get the gun up and pull the trig­ger be­fore they wing out of sight or out of range. An ef­fi­cient gun mount—with the bar­rel al­ready pointed to­ward the spot where the birds are likely to flush, and your eyes gaz­ing over the bead on the muz­zle—is crit­i­cal. There isn’t much time to think. The gun needs to be

mov­ing right now to es­tab­lish the cor­rect lead, and ide­ally you want to trip the trig­ger just after the butt of the shot­gun is pulled into the shoul­der. If you try to em­ploy the same light­ning re­flexes on a planted bird, you’re go­ing to end up with a mess of feath­ers in the sky and a worse mess on the ground. Once the bird flushes, recit­ing a de­lib­er­ate “one-one-thou­sand, two-one-thou­sand” will give it a chance to get out 20 to 30 yards be­fore you shoot, mak­ing for a cleaner kill and bet­ter ta­ble fare.


Hunting stocked birds can be a chaotic af­fair, with sev­eral hun­ters walk­ing abreast and a dog han­dler mov­ing back and forth, keep­ing track of the point­ers and re­triev­ers as they dart in and out of the cover. Add to this the ten­dency of planted birds to fly low, po­ten­tially in close prox­im­ity to the dogs, and you have a recipe for dis­as­ter if the shoot­ers aren’t paying at­ten­tion to every­thing go­ing on around them. I con­sider tak­ing a con­scious men­tal snap­shot of the en­vi­ron­ment to be a part of the shoot­ing tech­nique for planted birds. I need to know where all my com­pan­ions—both two- and four-legged—are in re­la­tion to me and the bird, and un­less I can ac­count for ev­ery­one, I pass on the shot. When chas­ing wild birds, you still need to be on top of all this, of course, but chances are there will be fewer hun­ters, fewer dogs, and no guide to worry about. The big­ger chal­lenge with shoot­ing wild birds is the phys­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment. Deep cat­tails. Tan­gles of young alders. Bro­ken rocky ground. Keep­ing track of your foot­ing and know­ing where you can plant your feet should your dog get birdy will im­prove your chances of con­nect­ing in thick, tough cover.


It’s easy to over­think the right gun, choke, and load combo for bird hunting. I be­lieve half the rea­son some folks put so much ef­fort into con­coct­ing their “ideal” setup is so they’ll have some­thing to ar­gue about with their buddies in the café be­fore the hunt and in the bar af­ter­ward. But it is true that planted

birds are more forgiving when it comes to shot­gun se­lec­tion. They are eas­ier to kill than their wild cousins, giv­ing you the flex­i­bil­ity to go with a lighter gauge and a lighter pay­load of shot. Whereas I won’t go smaller than a 20-gauge when I hunt moun­tain grouse, I won’t hes­i­tate to use a 28 on planted pheas­ants. You’ll never go wrong with a 12, of course, but planted pheas­ants and sub-gauge shot­guns pair as nicely as Stil­ton cheese and port.


With pre­serve birds, stan­dard low-brass game loads in 12- and 20-gauge of­fer plenty of knock­down power with­out gen­er­at­ing ex­ces­sive re­coil. Wild birds merit more con­sid­er­a­tion, how­ever. On any wild bird, high-brass No. 6s are the light­est I’ll go. If the cover is thicker, the shots are longer, the hunt is later in the sea­son and the tem­per­a­tures are colder and snow is on the ground, or I’m after larger-bod­ied birds like pheas­ants, I’ll go up in shot size to No. 5s or 4s.

Dan Leav­ens brings down a rooster near Cham­ber­lain, South Dakota.

A wild Hun­gar­ian par­tridge looks out for dan­ger on a grassy hill­side.

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