Opinion

Hunters have strong opinions about partridge guns

If you happen to be among a group of several partridge hunters and want to really stir up the discussion, ask, “What’s the best grouse gun?”

Ideas, opinions, and beliefs fly around like corn kernels in a hot popper. Political debates seldom hold a candle to a sportsman’s brouhaha about guns, dogs and ammo. Now if you want to steer clear of arguments and enjoy some heartwarming stories, tall tales and a few memories, pose the question to the assembled upland bird shooters, “What’s your favorite partridge gun?”

For many outdoorsmen, it’s a simple answer because they own only one scattergun and utilize it for grouse, ducks, woodcock, geese, rabbits and squirrels and sometimes even load buckshot or slugs for a whitetail hunt in thick, close-quarters woods. Age, job security with a comfortable wage and a touch of addiction to shooting pastimes often leads to the need for a larger gun case or safe rather than a two-gun wall rack. Diverse collections offer more options for selecting a “favorite” shotgun for partridge.

A 12-gauge seems to be the most common grouse gun, once again because for most hunters it fits the bill for pretty much any wildfowl from woodcock to wild turkey. Newer models will accommodate 2-3/4 , 3, and even the hefty 3-1/2 inch shells and with a choice of about a dozen pellet and shot sizes from minuscule #9s up to double ought buckshot. The middle of the road 20 gauge runs a close second to the 12 for across the board wildfowl species, and truth be told might just be the favorite go-to gun for avid grouse hunters all across the Northeast.

Although I switch shotguns like a frog changes lily pads, my go-to gun the past two seasons is a beat up old Stevens over and under. It was the second gun I ever owned. Well over 50 years old and purchased second hand, it is a unique combo gun with a .22 magnum rifle barrel over a 20 gauge magnum. Stevens also made a 22 long rifle over a .410 and a .30-30 over a 12 gauge combo guns that were very popular in the late 1950s and throughout the 60s.

My very first shotgun was a used single shot, break open .410, a gift from my Dad. It cost a whopping $20 in 1961. I’m sorry I ever traded that fine little firearm. It was a dead-on grouse gun at 25 yards and I’d use it today if I’d kept it, just for the fond memories.

As years pass fleetingly by, I find that limits of fish and birds as well as how large a game animal is, take a backseat to how, where and with who the adventure takes place. I own several very modern, high tech over-under and semi-auto shotguns but often find myself lugging a more vintage model and perhaps an odd caliber, just because. I have a close friend who also likes older scatterguns. He collects side by side double barrel, dual trigger Parkers. Some are over 100 years old, a couple are even pre-1900 exposed hammer guns. They will dump a partridge on the wing or on the stump with great efficiency. I’ve seen them account for many a limit and we both wonder about the hunters who bought and carried our time worn but much appreciated shotguns before us.

Other bird hunting companions opt for the often overlooked 16 gauge or the even more challenging to locate 28 gauge that denotes a true sportsman. A couple of times a season, I choose to hunt partridge with a handgun, and no, I’m not that accurate a shot. I cheat a bit. My handgun is a breakdown, single shot .410 Contender with a 10-inch barrel made by Thompson. It’s deadly with 3 inch shells and size 6 pellets at 25-30 yards. If I can’t get within range, then one of my hunting buddies shoots back-up with a long gun.

Another friend got a kind of odd gun for a Christmas present a couple of years ago, and has a ball partridge hunting with it. Called the Circuit Judge and manufactured by Rossi, the gun has an 18-1/2 inch barrel and short stock referred to as a Mare’s leg. It has a long revolver cylinder and fires .410 shells or, if you remove the choke tube, it will shoot .45 long Colt cartridges. It’s a fun and effective bird or small game gun, compact, accurate and fires several shots without reloading.

Over the years, I’ve been acquainted with several partridge hunters who actually favored a scoped .22 rifle. One fellow was fond of saying, “it’s either a head shot and no ruined meat full of pellets or the bird flies away.” I’ve seen him drop birds at 75 yards as they stood in the road or sat on a log, many a lot closer. This guy’s favorite grouse gun was a rifle. Sometimes, and for some sportsman, hunting carries far more significance than limits of game and meat on the table. It’s often about where, with whom, and concerning firearms, how the challenge of fair chase is undertaken.

So far this month, partridge hunters are seeing lots of birds. As the leaves continue to drop and crisp, frosty dawns and dusks occur daily, sightings should improve even more. Just last week for example, we spotted 12 grouse between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. and bagged five. Another trio spent three days at a North Maine Woods camp. They filled their daily limits with ease and spent extra time scouting. They spotted 101 partridge during their stay. It’s turning out to be a very promising autumn and there are plenty of days left for avid partridge gunners.

With deer season about to begin, fewer hunters will be after grouse, which is good news if you’re a birder. So now we are down to that final question: “What’s your favorite grouse gun?”

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