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Bowhunting Upland Birds.

Big game hunting with a traditional bow may be the king of sports, but setting the strung stick aside before or after deer season is a big mistake. Varmints and small game often predate and postdate big game seasons. Upland birds, too. Winged wildlife can be bowhunted on the same trail with deer, antelope, elk and other big game. Many of my happiest moments afield have been with bow in hand on survival hunts struggling to simply get something to eat; and that something was usually a bird--dove, quail, Hun or mountain grouse. Pheasants and chukars are bow worthy, too, along with wild turkeys, although that big bird is smoke for another campfire. This is about the smaller avians, if we can call a sage grouse at upwards of five pounds small; but how to hunt 'em and with what tackle.

Tackle--that's easy. For me, it's a longbow or recurve. Traditionals are cloud light in hand, and as natural shooting as breathing, kicking the experience up a significant level. It's going to be a big game bow, because upland birds are mainly encountered during big game hunts. If I had a bow crafted strictly for feathered edibles, it would be a lightweight longbow, no more than 40-pound draw. No bow quiver inserts. Back quiver only for plenty of arrows. The arrow is another matter. I lost a mountain grouse not long ago, zipped with a broadhead, and not a bad hit. The bird was on a ledge overlooking a deep, dark canyon. The arrow smacked center. The bird doubtlessly expired on its way to the bottom of that forested crack in the earth, but I did not get to eat it. Some lucky coyote did. My fault. There are many good heads for bowhunting birds. Oddly, sharp broadheads are not necessarily ideal.

Snaro Bird Points have four circular wires mounted on a common blunt point. The wires provide either a three-inch or five-inch strike area. Bludgeon Small Game Blunts are also effective on smaller birds. After grouse size, I prefer a cutting edge. Blunts require no arrow taper. They simply slip over the end, remaining in place due to impact force. For most birds, the 65-grain model is sufficient Snares and Bludgeons will not stay with the bird, but the first produces a significant slice, the second a high-impact blow.

The Tiger Claw Small Game Point cuts a 7/8-inch diameter hole, but it does not destroy a great deal of edible meat in the process with its star-shaped cutting edges. The tip of this point is blunt, delivering a whack along with the blades. Zwickey's venerable Judo is another excellent bird point. It remains with the bird after striking, as does its bigger brother, the Zwickey Kondor with its longer wires. The Magnus Blunt performs both impact and cutting with a flat nose plus optional single blade.

Muzzy's Grasshopper is like the Judo with protruding wires, but it mounts behind a point. The Game Tracker Company has a new Shocker that incorporates Judo wires with a blunt head. These last two are screw-ins. Then there are add-ons behind the head that prevent pass-through. That big blue grouse would have been on my dinner table with that arrangement. The Bonebuster was definitely intended for big game, but its toughness to withstand multiple encounters with hard ground without damage make it a fine bird head with a drag mounted behind it on the arrow.

How to hunt birds with a bow? Most are taken incidentally while the archer goes for big game, but there are a few basic methods that work for dove, quail, sage hens, mountain grouse and Hungarian partridges. Pheasants are wingshot by truly good archers. For example, talented western singer, Gary Morris, shoots pheasants out of the air with his longbow. Me, forget it. The only pheasants I've taken with strung stick were standing like little statues in early morning light surveying the land from a high point, like a bale of hay in a field. Chukars, I have never bowhunted. Mainly, I go for dove and quail, sage hens, mountain grouse and partridges.

Dove and quail are staples on long survival trips with bow and arrow. They are hunted differently. Waterholes surrounded by trees work for doves. The bowman, camouflaged, preferably with a facemask in place, stands with trees for a background. Dove fly in, land--and woosh! A blunt flies, hopefully, to the mark. One dove in the bag. Since the object is always food, my hunting partners and I are content with three or four birds each. Quail are a different story. The greatest success I've enjoyed on quail has been along desert washes. Listening is the key. Cha-kee-tah! Cha-kee-tah! Now stalk the calling bird, slowly. With stealth and a slice of luck, there he stands, a nice big male calling his clan in. Also, the bowhunter can play the role of the quail with a call of his own. I've also had good luck with quail as they paced by me, especially in desert washes of the Southwest where a clean shot is the rule.

Sage grouse make superb archery targets, but only before they have been hunted hard. Then the scare radius, as it's known, increases. I've hunted where birds rising at 40 yards were a bargain. Sometimes they get up so far away that the strongest 12-gauge shotgun load is useless. However, before the birds get wild, they tend to hang in close. My best fortune on sage grouse happens within a half-mile radius of waterholes. Last season, I located such a waterhole in an otherwise dry patch of Wyoming high desert. As sure as taxes and tides, the birds were nearby, some truly large "bombers," as the big males are called, some weighing up to eight pounds, but five is much closer to the norm. The plan is simple. Locate. Stalk. Shoot. I also rely on binoculars to find birds from lookout points. The object is glassing along dirt roads and trails, especially in morning and afternoon. Sage grouse like to dust along such arteries. Spot with the glass, stalk, and shoot.

Most of my Huns are "by accident," that is, I've run into them while hiking. Grouse are a little different. If there is a key to finding these large and absolutely delicious birds, it's the ridge. There are usually game trails along mountain ridges, so the going is easy. I use an S-pattern walking method on the ridge, leaving the trail, walking into the forest on the right-hand side, then back to the trail, crossing it, walking the forest on the left, back to the trail, and so forth. Once again, I like binoculars for finding the birds, but I don't glass from a high point. I simply walk and peek. Walk a little, look a little. Birds in the trees are difficult to see.

Likewise on the ground they are often difficult to see except when moving where they stand out fairly well. Late in the season, the idea is to hike up, not down. Blue grouse do not migrate downward with elk and deer as snows build on high. They go higher and higher, living on pine needles all winter long. While this seems a flaw in nature's plan, going up instead of down as the white stuff builds, it works for the grouse. Coyotes and other predators are few in the winter highlands and the birds have a good grocery store well above the snowy forest floor.

Bird hunting with a traditional bow is a quiet, mild challenge in interesting country. It provides good exercise with a chance to explore new territory, scout or hunt big game while gathering a king's bounty in camp food.
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Publication:Petersen's Bowhunting
Date:May 1, 2001
Previous Article:Mastering The Quick Draw.
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