A focus on simple gateways to grouse hunting can recruit our next generation of hunters.
By Matt Soberg, RGS/AWS Editor & Director of Communications
We always hear about perceived barriers to entry purportedly inherent in grouse and woodcock hunting. “There are no birds around, and it’s hard to find them. The cover is so thick, too hard and strenuous. When you do find birds, the shots are impossible. Guns are intimidating, and I don’t know how to train a bird dog.” Blah, blah, blah.
Grouse hunting is not that scary. Trust me.
We have to flip this negative attitude on its face and take a different approach. Let’s focus on the positives, the advantages and the little things I wrote about in the past spring issue of this magazine that make grouse and woodcock hunting the grand sport we know it is. There is just too much good in what we do that is truly inherent – things like the challenges of the find, cover and shot, our relationship with our bird dogs, the skill of shooting, the history of the hunt, the literature and art, and of course the legacy we leave for the next generation. That last entry is the key, if recruitment, retention and reactivation (R3) is important to you as a grouse and woodcock hunter and to RGS and AWS as organizations, positive promotion is essential.
As you know, R3 is important to us and can easily be seen by the New Hunter Mentor Program, Women’s Intro to Wingshooting Program and the upcoming RGS Leadership Academy. RGS and AWS Director of Member Relations and Outreach Mark Fouts has been aggressively attending recruitment conferences and reviewing other programs to learn best techniques and to enhance our programs to take them to the next level.
Recently, Mark reported to staff that it is widely apparent in the R3 community that no program exists to promote grouse and woodcock hunting. Can this be? There are programs for turkeys, deer and pheasants, obviously, but not one for grouse and woodcock hunting. Not one.
Again, if the future of our traditions are important to you, you should be proud that RGS and AWS are taking this proactive initiative to be THE LEADING program in the United States to promote what we love to the next generation.
It is not hard to see why these other species are the targets of R3 programs – easy access, stationary targets, and one-and-done experiences. We get back to the perceived barriers to entry and difficulty of grouse and woodcock hunting, but that approach of excluding grouse and woodcock is so narrow-minded and short-sighted, to me. There is just so much more to what we do that is attractive to new hunters.
What about the easily identifiable gateways to upland hunting – maybe dogs, gear, artistry, books, the great taste of birds or the feat of embracing perceived difficulties as a challenge to overcome?
Dogs are certainly a gateway to youth and new hunters upon which we should take advantage to recruit new hunters. Our relationships with our dogs is a pinnacle, and who doesn’t love a bird dog puppy?
Upland art and writing are also gateways to our sport, and this is readily apparent through quick view of social media channels these days. The art is attractive, exciting, fun and a challenge in itself. Artistry and writing are great practices to keep hungry hunters in the moment all year long, and it is attracting new hunters too. One example of the power of upland art as a gateway to loving our sport is Edith Chamberlain, the daughter of my hunting buddy Laurence, who was inspired by upland art on Instagram to start drawing images of grouse, woodcock and bird dogs on her own. At 12 years old, I think her work is extremely impressive, and I have no doubt she will continue to carry her interest with her father into the grouse and woodcock woods soon.
I also think just promoting the challenge of grouse hunting can be a gateway instead of a negative. “Don’t take the easy way out, hunt grouse.” The challenges of the cover, birds and shot make a bird in hand so much more fulfilling when it happens, and when it doesn’t, it is easy to honor the bird with respect for offering the challenge and succeeding.
The beauty of this banter is that the RGS and AWS R3 programs are doing just this – taking advantage of these gateways through educating new hunters on hunting history, finding habitat, identifying birds, bird dog basics and care, shooting safety and skills – all the things that tell the comprehensive story of grouse and woodcock hunting and topics about which people really care and respect. The Ruffed Grouse Society magazine is a great resource for new hunters on grouse literature and art, classic grouse stories, habitat and hunting how-to articles, gear, guns, books, cooking and more.
Instead of the negative, what if we said, “I love the challenge of finding birds. I feel an accomplishment when a bird is flushed. I love the challenge of grouse cover. I take pride in traversing cover that others decline. Give the bird respect for evading the hunter after a difficult miss. They earned it. And, one bird in hand is a feat upon which to be proud.”
That’s the experience I want to have, and if we use this approach and focus on gateways to grouse and woodcock hunting, I think other new hunters will feel the same way.
To join or for more information, go to www.ruffed.org.
Illustrations by RGS Junior Member Edith Chamberlain, 12 years old, Brainerd, Minnesota.
This editor note was first published in the Summer 2017 issue of the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine.