A few holidays ago we ran a tongue-in-cheek column suggesting a gift for the shooter who had almost everything. That column recommended a $6,000 high-caliber pistol that would stagger Andre the Giant.
This holiday we suggest purchasing a $100 book on grouse. This time, the purchase is well worth the cost and involvement.
Wild River Press has published in time for the holidays “A Passion for Grouse,” a tome-like text on the ruffed grouse. The sub-title “The Lore and Legend of America’s Premier Game Bird” is presented in both words from preeminent outdoor writers and photo art and sketches produced by highly skilled photographers and artists.
Tim Flanigan provides the cover photo and many of the hundreds of color photos seen throughout this 560-page text printed the size of an 8.5 by 11-inch paper.
Flanigan, Pennsylvania’s equivalent of Maryland’s Bernard “Left” Kreh, devotes countless hours afield getting priceless shots of these illusive and intriguing game birds. Like Kreh, he also has a willing ear and eye open to all shutterbugs interested in capturing the right colors and angle of light to illustrate the beauty of anything outdoors.
Thomas R. Pero edited the text, bringing together the most articulate writers, past and present, who have devoted much of a lifetime afield and at the keyboard following the flights of “bonasa umbellus” – the ruffed grouse.
Along with Flanigan, Pero has included photo art from Dale C. Sparta, Hannah Stonehouse Hudson, Bill Lea, Jonathan Barta and others. Pero admits that no one pen could ink the entire aura of this popular game bird. From Dennis LeBare to Cory Ford and Michigan’s Steve Smith, the outpouring of insights, anecdotes, how-tos, and pure love of the hunt prevail on every page of this text.
Smith, in his introduction, welcomes readers to be “…prepared to be taken both back and away.”
Professor R. J. Gutierrez stresses the essential need for forest over story in his discussion of the natural history of grouse and the biology of these birds. Their distribution and diversity makes the grouse an interesting ecological study. While they are vulnerable in the face of commercial land development, their solidarity and mechanical drumming make them a sight and sound worth studying as well as hunting.
Gutierrez describes his early introduction to grouse in upstate New York and the magnetic draw the hunt and subsequent table fare this bird offers. He also presents detailed studies on this bird’s drumming sounds. One study indicated drum beats and counts could indicate where bird populations are in the noted perception that grouse numbers rise and fall in 10-year cycles.
Despite the vastness of grouse habitat features, he believes it is manageable, noting, “Grouse management is the nexus between hunter and biologist.” For example, downed logs left in forests provide the best cover/aura for birds to drum, assemble, mate and thrive.
He ends with an appeal to buy sporting licenses. “Hunting and fishing license fees are the main source of funding for our state wildlife agencies,” he writes, which support project such as studies held each fall in New York State to assess the count of mating birds afield.
Art Wheaton’s interviewing in “Talking Grouse with George King” is worth the price of this book. King’s passion for the hunt, editing and writing about those hunts and pure love for the pursuit and harvesting of grouse offers it all.
The section on dogs tells and illustrates the diversity of canine species and character traits that go so well in grouse fields.
Tom Prawdzik is yet another interviewed grouse veteran who shares interesting stories and information with every reply/comment.
Sections on Gordon MacQuarrie, Sydney Lea and other living and past scribes are all impressive, but having spent so many early years at readings of Corey Ford’s “Lower Forty” brings almost tears when reading James W. Hall III’s account of the “Brilliant and Beloved Bard” of outdoor writing.
Ford, never a name dropper, fished and hunted with the likes of Bing Crosby and befriended Jimmy Stewart and W.C. Fields but always found time to encourage and mentor young school kids such as Hall and so many others at Columbia, Dartmouth and anywhere outdoor writers gathered. Ford’s love for grouse hunting and the circle of friends he characterized in his hundreds of outdoors columns are an engrossing read today, some four decades after his passing.
Larry Brown’s “Guns for Grouse” chapter illustrates everything from a 20-gauge Bernadelli that goes for $9,299 or a CZ Bobwhite priced at $770. But a Remington 860 or an Ithaca 37 works just fine.
The illustrated drawings of William Harnden Foster in Chapter Eight show new and expert shooters how to take aim in virtually every flight direction.
Your true love may not actually gift you a partridge in a pear tree, but giving or receiving “A Passion for Grouse” could provide reading enjoyment to last for more than all 12 days of Christmas.
For a sneak preview of the book, go to apassionforgrouse.com. For details about the book, call (425) 486-3638. To order on line, go to wildriverpress.com.