Written By: Michael Browning, Grouse Haven Wingshooting
Orvis is a proud partner of select wingshooting lodges and outfitters across the country who share our passion for celebrating the adventure and wonder of nature. We created this series to highlight outstanding individuals who work hard to deliver the high-quality wingshooting experiences that clients have come to expect from Orvis-endorsed operations.
I was exposed to upland hunting early in life by my father and grandfather, who would bring me along as they hunted Ruffed grouse and Woodcock up here in the North Maine woods. In those days, I would hunt grouse by shooting them on the ground. When I was 19, however, I decided that approach wasn’t very sportsman-like, and vowed to limit my shots to birds on the wing. That fall, my father and I went hunting on his property, and as he was walking the edge of some cover, he bumped a grouse that came towards me from about 30 yards away. I put the bead of my shotgun on it, put a lead on the front of the bird, and pulled the trigger. It was a perfect shot, the kind that wingshooting enthusiasts dream of, and one I still remember all these years later.
You’d think that glorious moment would’ve been enough to get me hooked, but my love for the sport didn’t really blossom until I bought my first bird dog, a pointer, about 20 years ago. Pointers are resilient dogs that train very quickly and aren’t sensitive to raising your voice or introducing gun fire, which is why I recommend a pointer for first-time bird dog owners. I eventually switched to English/Llewellin setters because I liked how they hunted closer and were better retrievers, but once you understand the basics, these details mostly come down to personal preference. The same goes for guns; I shoot mostly 20-gauges these days, and really enjoy both my Churchill side-by-side and my Remington SPR 310 over/under (and dream about owning a Purdey one day), but your mileage may vary.
Two decades later, I’m still hunting grouse and Woodcock with my trusty setters in the North Maine woods, and still feeling very privileged to have been raised here alongside my two favorite quarries. I love grouse because they’re beautiful birds that are tough enough to survive all year in Maine, yet smart enough that pursuing them often feels like playing a game of chess. And the arrival of the Woodcock migration in spring is always an exciting time for both hunters and dogs. We ran into a whole flight of Woodcocks on a trip down in Vermont a few years ago, which made for one of the most amazing days of wingshooting in recent memory. I still get just as excited for a flush as I did all those years ago as a young boy, it never gets old.
Michael Browning is owner and operator of Grouse Haven Wingshooting in Jay, ME.