Lowell Branham - Scripps Howard News Service
You know your childhood days are over when you greet a fresh snowfall with
a groan instead of a grin.
By that definition I guess I'm still a kid even though I'm near retirement
age. My grins might not be as broad as they once were, but for me, seeing a
blanket of sparkling new of snow on the ground still gives me more pleasure
In Southwest Virginia where I grew up, we got snow a lot more often and a lot
more of it than in East Tennessee, where I now live. And when snow came, what
I usually did was load up my shotgun and take to the woods or the fields.
If I went to the fields, I was after rabbits, although there were also quail
in the fields. In fact, considering the paucity of prime quail habitat in our
neck of the woods, there was a surprising abundance of quail in the fields.
But where I grew up, hunting quail was verboten because landowners just wouldn't
Except for two old grouches, everyone in our whole end of the county welcomed
young hunters with open arms. But the welcome always came with a strict admonition.
"You boys go on and shoot all the rabbits you want to. But now don't you
bother my birds." And we boys generally obeyed those admonitions, knowing
full well that if we got caught violating them, we'd lose our hunting privileges.
If, instead of the fields, I went to the woods, that meant I was after grouse.
There were also squirrels in the woods, but squirrels were something you could
hunt anytime, while a fresh snowfall gave you a rare leg up on hunting grouse,
or at least that was my view of it.
The same landowners who were so protective of their quail didn't mind a bit
for you shooting grouse - or a least shooting at them. More than once I've heard
old timers offer the sage advice: "Don't shoot at them ol' pheasants (which
was what the old timers called grouse). Ye'll jest be wastin' yer shells."
I might have heeded the old timers' advice had I not managed, by some fortuitous
juxtaposition of the stars and planets, to kill the first grouse I ever shot
at. There was a long dry spell between my first and second birds, but the knowledge
that it could be done kept me going till I got over the hump.
I've got a good grouse-hunting buddy who refuses to hunt grouse in the snow.
He says the snow makes it a lot harder to get around in the woods, plus, you
just don't find as many grouse when there's snow on the ground. He's right on
How can that be, you ask, when I just made the claim that snow is an advantage
in grouse hunting? Well, it all has to do with the way you hunt grouse. My buddy
hunts with dogs. In my boyhood days I didn't have a grouse dog, so I hunted
them by walking them up.
Grouse don't move around as much when there's snow on the ground, and that
means they don't leave as many scent trails for a dog to come across. So when
you're hunting in the snow, you generally don't get as many points as when the
ground is bare.
And there's no question it's much harder to get around in the woods when there's
snow. In fact, a day of slipping and sliding and tumbling in the snow-covered
grouse woods can leave you feeling by the end of the day like you've been trampled
by a herd of cattle.
So why did I prefer to hunt grouse in the snow when I was hunting them without
a dog? Well, the great bugaboo for the dogless grouse hunter is wild flushes
- birds that get up out of range offering you no chance for a shot.
Even with dogs you get a good many wild flushes. When hunting without dogs,
for every bird you get a fair shot at, there'll be half a dozen or more that
get up wild and out of range.
It's different, though, when there's snow on the ground. For some reason, the
birds sit a lot closer then, and you'll get shots at a much higher proportion
of the ones that you come across.
Plus, there was one particular jaunt that I would make as a kid that always
seemed to pay off big on snowy days, and that was along the river that wound
through the national forest.
For some reason snow seemed to make grouse bunch up along the river trail.
I recall one trip with a boyhood pal during which we must've flushed at least
35 or 40 birds in jaunt of about four miles.
Alas, that was before I'd gotten over the hump in grouse shooting. We left
a lot of empty hulls in the snow along our route but only killed one bird. And
sad to say, it was my buddy who bagged that one.
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