REDEFINING LIMITS
The Upland Almanac|Winter 2020
The joys of winter hunting know no limits. Drifting leaves and slanting sunlight may be the abiding images of autumn, but winter’s austerity is an acquired taste, like rare woodcock or straight whiskey.
Jon Osborn

By November, the vibrancy of fall has been stripped bare, and the clear cuts leave little to the imagination.

Winter grouse are a hunter’s paradox. Birds that have run the season’s gauntlet are proven survivors, and some argue they’ve earned their reprieve. Others insist that a percentage will be lost through attrition anyway, so why let the goshawks and owls reap the benefits? As usual, the answer likely lies somewhere in the middle, and culling a bird or two probably doesn’t hurt populations in the end.

Walking amid the leafless aspens once had me pondering the notion of winter grouse limits. What qualifies as enough? Legality? Morality? Neither? Both? One thing’s certain: Bird hunting looks different now than it did when Burton Spiller and Corey Ford tramped the uplands years ago.

Today, a measure of “voluntary restraint” goes a long way. At times, conscientious hunters intentionally stop short of a limit, even when they could tag out. After all, bulging game bags hardly justify an afternoon afield. Savoring a hard-won game bird, smoothing its feathers and reveling in superior dog work lie at the soul of the upland experience, and quality trumps quantity every time.

Take woodcock, for example. When the flights arrive, shooting a trio of birds can be quick and easy. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Unlike their long-billed brethren, however, ruffed grouse rank among the toughest game birds to harvest, and bag limits are often laughable. In some states, like Michigan, hunters are legally allowed as many as five ruffed grouse per day. Five. And they say fly fishermen are optimists … Truth is, killing even a single grouse on the wing demands straight shooting, staunch dog work and no shortage of luck – even for veteran hunters.

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