This section is from the book "The Dogs Of Great Britain, America, And Other Countries. Their Breeding, Training, and Management in Health and Disease", by John Henry Walsh (Stonehenge). Also available from Amazon: The Dogs Of Great Britain, America And Other Countries.
North America is exceeded by no other country in the world in the number and varieties of its game birds, and among these the grouse of different species and the true partridge - the so-called quail - furnish more recreation to the sportsmen and more food for domestic uses, than any other of our birds. Curiously the partridge, so-called in common parlance, is not the true one, but belongs to the grouse family, of which we have ten species, the ruffed grouse, (Tetrao umbellus), the prairie hen, (Tetrao cupido), the spruce grouse (Tetrao Canadensis) of the East and West, and the dusky grouse (Tetrao obscurus) of the Pacific Coast, being the most commonly known of these birds. The true partridge, of which we have at least seven species, are commonly called quail. The best known species is the Virginia partridge, (Ortyx Virginianus), whose cry, at the brooding season, so nearly like "bob-white," with a slowly drawn lengthening of the first syllable and a quick sharply accented rising inflection of the latter one - is so well known to every rural dweller. 248
The Luffed Grouse is scattered all over the country east of the Mississippi, where woods now exist, or have previously existed. It is found in cultivated fields, patches of woods, and in the deep forests. Under the influence of moderate protection at the breeding season, it is sufficiently plentiful to afford recompense for the time occupied in pursuing it. It is too well known to need any description, indeed it is so well known and so constantly and persistently hunted, that were it not an exceedingly shy and wary bird, strong of wing, and direct and swift in its flight, it would soon be exterminated. It is a difficult bird to shoot on the wing, especially in woods and thickets, and it requires a practised hand and a quick eye to bring it to bag, except when started by a snapping cur, often trained to "tree" these birds, it takes refuge upon the nearest tree, and giving sole attention to the dog is easily shot by a sharp-eyed hunter, who can distinguish its speckled brown plumage from the similarly colored bark against which it crouches. In the open, it is more easily shot over a setter or a pointer, and in open woods with a good dog, its chase is by no means so unsuccessful as to discourage the sportsman.
It must be hit hard, to kill; and will frequently carry off a load of shot to a considerable distance before it drops. As it rises before the dog it flies off with a loud, sharp whirr, which greatly confuses a novice until he becomes accustomed to it.
The Pinnated Grouse, or Prairie hen, is abundant from Texas through all the prairie country northward to Canada, but it has been driven out of the Middle States where it was formerly abundant, in the openings among the timber. Thirty years' slaughter have been sufficient to exterminate this game bird from the Atlantic Coast to the Mississippi River, except in a few localities where now it is gradually disappearing; when it was formerly so abundant as to feed in the farm yards and appear in the streets of villages. This confiding habit has perhaps led to its general destruction. The attitude of this bird is not so graceful as that of the ruffed grouse, but its walk is bold and erect. When startled it runs with swiftness until taking wing, or squats until it is flushed.
In August and September they lie well to a dog, and can be shot witli case. Later they gather in flocks, and become wild, rising out of gun shot and flying away for a long distance; but if followed and again started they scatter, and, lying close, may be flushed singly an:l bagged. In the fall they frequent the corn fields and pick up the scattered corn, but are difficult to shoot in such places, from the noise made in passing through the rustling leaves which startles them before the hunter can get within shot. Sport under such cireumstances is weary and unprofitable work.
The Dusky Grouse, is the finest of the whole family, exceeding all others in size, and being equal to any in delicacy of flesh. The male has been found to weigh 3 1/2 lbs., while 3 lbs. is a common weight In color it is generally greyish brown, mottled with reddish brown and black; the throat is white, crossed with black; the breast and belly are lead color; the tail feathers are black with the terminal cross band of grey usual in the grouse family.
The young birds when half grown in August are easily killed, and are much sought for on account of the tenderness and delicacy of their flesh. The mature birds have the same habit which the re* lated species of the east possess of taking refuge in the nearest tree, and remaining crouched against the trunk on a limb. They lie very close to dogs, and are easily killed when found away from the thick pine forest in which they usually harbor.
The Virginia Partridge or Quail, is known by its right name in Pennsylvania and further South, although the residents there make up for this accuracy by wrongly calling the grouse a pheasant As a quail, it is wrongly known in New England and the Northern States. No more familiar sound is heard in the spring, when the bird is mating or brooding, than the cheery "bob-white" which at morning, noon, and night, is sung by the male and answered by the female. The nest is made on the ground, of grass, and is sheltered by some tall tuft The young birds run as soon as hatched, and the brood roost together at night upon the ground, in a circle with their heads outwards. If disturbed they take flight, each in a direct line, and thus spread in separate courses. The note of alarm is a low twittering sound, not unlike that made by young chickens; the note of recall, after a scattering, is loud and frequent, with a tone of tenderness and anxiety expressed in it At the hunting season in September and October, the grain fields furnish a harbor for feeding places, and beveys of four or five, up to thirty, afford sport to the sportsman. The pointer or setter is used to find the game and its direct, steady flight, makes it an easy mark for a fair shot.
The partridge abound from Canada to Texas and Florida, and are numerous in the great Western States. Their flesh is white, tender and delicious, and a supper of broiled "quail" is a sufficient reward to the sportman with appetite sharpened by healthful ex* ercise over the stubble fields.
Quail shooting is the most frequent and convenient sport both for the country dweller, and those who are condemned by the pursuits of business to inhabit the cities, from which they can only occasionally steal away to the field. When in pursuit of quail, as the main object, all other kinds of game are taken as they come. Grouse and hares may be picked up occasionally, and the expectation of finding these add to the zest of the sport. The sportsman is therefore required to be constantly on the lookout, and ready to take what it may happen to be. It is not wise to be too early afield after quail. The dew should be off the ground, and the birds should have left their roosting places, else they may lay up for the day out of reach, or they will not lie to the dog. From eight to nine, depending upon the weather somewhat, is early enough. In beating the ground, the first thing, is to drive the whole range up to the wind, so as to give the dogs a chance to scent and to get the best shots, as quail prefer to fly with the wind rather than against it.
When birds are flushed and marked down, they should be approached so as to let the dogs face the wind.
The best ground for quail, early in the morning, is grain stubbles and cornfields, and meadows adjacent to dry boggy swamps, and rank places where briers, low bushes, and cranberries grow. The boundaries of fields, especially where coarse weeds and brush is growing, and on the bushy borders of woods, are likely places to find bevys. After these have been beaten, the middles of the fields may be tried. When the dog stands still, with stern outstretched and rigid, his frame quivering with excitement, the game is close before him. When he wavers, wags his tale wistfully, and looks back, the game is gone, or is at some distance. If he crouches low, and evinces a desire to crawl on the ground, he has a running bevy before him. In the first case, it will be necessary to take such a direction in coming up as will command a good shot when the birds rise, and will drive them to ground which you propose to beat by and by.
This, of course, has been previously laid out in the mind in planning the day's sport. When the birds rise, if a single one leads, he is the old cock, and should be killed by all means, if possible. When he is bagged, the rest of the bevy will alight sooner. When the old pair has been shot, the rest may be counted as already in bag, for, deprived of their leaders, the young birds are bewildered.
If all the bevy rise at once, do not shoot into the body of it, but select the outer bird on your own hand, the right if you are at the right, and the left if your companion has the right. When the outer bird has been dropped, the next should be covered and shot as quickly as possible. At least twelve or fifteen yards should be given before the gun is fired, otherwise the birds will be torn by the shot. As they light, they should be marked down carefully; if they are going down hill, and before the wind, they will go some distance, beyond where they were last seen. If they enter a wood or a field of standing corn, they will rarely go through to the other side, but on alighting will run a few yards, and then squat. If the birds are seen to drop, they may be marked with certainty, otherwise the nature of the ground, the wind, and their flight, must be considered before one can be certain of their whereabouts. After quail have dropped and squatted, they sometimes give no scent, and the best dog may fail to point them. This habit of withholding scent, is supposed to be voluntary and in-stinclive; or it may be a physiological peculiarity, consequent upon their state of alarm, and involuntary;.this is obviously, however, a matter which cannot easily be investigated.
But the fact should be known and noted, because it is useless to follow birds to their hiding places immediately, and the time would be thrown away in doing so. To secure sport, therefore, in the afternoon, the best way is to continue beating the stubbles, feeding grounds, and edges of woods and dry swamps, and to secure what birds are found, until the scattered birds shall begin to call; then to follow up those which have been flushed in the morning and marked down, into the precise spots or as near as may be, and beat up for them with patience, turning and returning until every bird has been accounted for.
The quail is a difficult bird to shoot in a covert; it flies rapidly, as fast in a thick cover as in the open, carries shot a long distance, and falls suddenly in the midst of its flight. It is necessary for the sportsman to keep close up to his dogs when in covert, and not to lag behind on any account whatever, lest he have only his labor and an empty bag for his pains.
When ruffed grouse have been flushed while hunting quail, it is not difficult to bag them if the precaution is taken to shoot fully three feet ahead of him if he be sailing down on the wind with the wings set; otherwise, when he rises within range, he hangs at first, and if one is cool and shoots quickly, it is not so hard a matter to drop him.