By Tom Davis
We all know of outdoorsmen with Jedi-like skills—skills that are all but unimaginable to the rest of us. For example, it had never occurred to me that it might be possible to distinguish between male and female ruffed grouse on the wing. I mean, Are you kidding me?
And yet, in his magisterial Grouse & Woodcock: The Birds of My Life, author Timothy C. Flanigan states, “The trained shooter can readily and accurately identify the sex of the birds when in flight. Learning that skill enhances our ability to shoot selectively to avoid the taking of the very valuable hens . . . .”
It’s not entirely surprising then—as we learn a few pages on—that this man capable of sexing grouse in flight does most of his hunting with a .410 (a Browning Citori, in case you’re wondering). Clearly Mr. Flanigan, a keen student of natural history and professional wildlife photographer who enjoyed a long career as a Pennsylvania conservation officer, operates on a very different plane than most of us who stumble around in the woods.
Of course, this is precisely what gives Flanigan the credentials to write such a book, by turns a loving tribute to these beguilingly challenging gamebirds and a graduate-level seminar on how to hunt them successfully. His eight core tips in this regard, including the importance of hunting quietly, learning to recognize and efficiently work birdy cover and making the most of every opportunity—what he calls “the art of staying alert”—are covered in individual chapters, and while most of his own gunning has taken place in Pennsylvania and Maryland, his lessons are applicable irrespective of the address.
Still, what ultimately sets this 400-plus-page book apart is the photography. Feasting your eyes on one startlingly close-up image of grouse and woodcock after another—a hen woodcock offering part of a worm to her chick, to cite only one of countless examples—your mind is emptied of all thoughts save one: How the heck did he get that shot?
Jedi-like skills, indeed.
Grouse & Woodcock: The Birds of My Life is available for $100 (a limited leather-bound edition costs $300) from wildriverpress.com.