Every experienced upland hunter likely already knows this, but grouse are certainly hard to hit in thick cover. They’re fast as hell, and they seem to appear out of nowhere – especially if you’re grouse hunting without a dog. Even though sometimes it might seem like a lost cause, there are certainly a few things you can do to improve your shooting in the grouse woods!
Improve Your Shooting – Reduce Gun To Shoulder Time
It should go without saying, but getting your gun to your shoulder quickly & anchored correctly is a major factor when it comes to bagging grouse. I’ve missed more opportunities at grouse without getting a shot than I can count simply because I wasn’t able to get my gun to my shoulder correctly.
When you’re weaving through the woods trying to find grouse you often end up holding your gun in positions that aren’t ideal for quickly getting your gun to your shoulder. That’s a whole different topic, but one thing that I wanted to mention is that in order to give yourself the best chance for success you’re going to want the right gear. This isn’t to say that you need the priciest gear out there – I’ve actually found it’s quite opposite. In my opinion, the “right gear” comes down to 3 main categories:
1. Vests & Jackets – Ditch The Bulky Ones
The days of super bulky hunting gear are long gone. Most companies today are realizing that hunters want gear that actually fits them correctly, and there is a really good reason for that. Bulky vests & jackets make it really tough to get your gun to your shoulder quickly. You’ll often get your recoil pad (more on these in a bit) snagged on the loose fabric of bulkier apparel. Going out and getting a jacket or vest that fits relatively tight to your body without having a ton of loose fabric will not only be more comfortable, but you’ll get your gun up faster to allow for higher quality shots.
2. Recoil Pads – Go With Plastic
I get why most companies have evolved to thick, non-slip rubber for recoil pads. They’re more comfortable, reduce recoil quite a bit, and are perfect for most hunting and shooting styles. However in my opinion they aren’t super conducive to grouse hunting. When I hunted with a rubber recoil pad it would commonly get snagged on my vest just outside my normal anchor point. Sometimes I would be able to correct for it enough to fold the grouse up and bring it down, but it was very clear that I wasn’t giving myself the best chance for success. Enter the plastic butt plate.
Now obviously switching to a plastic butt plate is going to mean more felt recoil from your shots, so if you have a hard time managing the recoil even with a rubber recoil pad I would suggest ignoring this one. But since switching to a plastic butt plate on my Browning Citori I get my gun to the correct anchor point more consistently, & significantly faster. Since it’s shorter than the typical rubber recoil pad it gives me a little more wiggle room to get the gun up. At only $10-15, they’re pretty cheap to try. Go ahead and pick one up and see if it makes a difference for you.
3. You Shotgun – Short Barrel, Right Fit
Now is not the time to bring out your trap gun with a 28″ barrel. You’re looking for a short, stocky shotgun that gives you the best chance of being able to swing on a bird in the thick grouse woods. My personal favorite is a Browning Citori with a 24″ barrel, but the biggest thing here is to get a gun that fits you correctly. If you’re gun is too big for you (or even too small) you’re going to be way slower on the draw & that grouse is going to be long gone. Get a gun that fits correctly & make sure you can get your gun up when that grouse flushes.
Improve Your Shooting With The Step-Back Method
Before I even start this let me begin by saying this is a bit unconventional. The only time you’re really going to use this shooting technique is likely when you’re grouse hunting. With that being said, this single shooting technique has dramatically increased the number of grouse I hit. If you practice with it a bit I can practically guarantee that you are going to improve your shooting in the grouse woods.
The idea behind what I call “The Step-Back Method” is pretty simple. Instead of stepping towards all the thick cover & limiting your swing, you’re going to step back. This is going to open up a small space of open area in front of you so that you can swing on the bird. We’re only talking about 10-12″ of extra space, but if you’re shooting a good grouse gun that’s likely all you’re going to need.
Try It In Your Living Room
You don’t even need a gun in your hands to see how this works. Go ahead and stand about a foot away from a wall, and imagine that’s some cover in the grouse woods. Now try to imagine stepping forward into your shot while you bring your gun up and swinging on a bird. Probably not going to work, right?
What I’ve done the past few years is instead of stepping into my shot, I actually plant my front foot and step back. My front foot doesn’t move, and I ultimately end up on the same stable platform as I would if I stepped forward. I still lean into my shot, but my upper body ultimately ends up about 20-24″ further back than it would have if I stepped into the shot.
Typically as you’re walking through the woods you end up with a small open space behind you, but not in front of you. By stepping back into this open area, you’re going to dramatically improve your shooting. You can now swing on the bird completely uninhibited, giving you a much higher chance for success.