The Village Gun is my name for an old Springfield 84-C. My father acquired the rifle and a state of the art Weaver 3/4 inch straight tube scope for $7.50 during the Depression. In previous articles, I revealed my father used that the Village Gun and the neighbors for deer hunting. Please don’t grouse about another post about this storied firearm.
My father didn’t use the Village Gun primarily for deer hunting. A.22 rifle has dozens of uses for on a farm at the edge of wild country. Oer the roughly 60 years of its Wisconsin existence, The Village gun was used for most of them. One of those: hunting ruffed grouse.
It was illegal to hunt ruffed grouse with a rifle in Wisconsin. It’s one of those laws born from good intentions; it’s a bad idea to fire a rifle randomly into the air. A high-powered rifle, shot into the body of a grouse, results in a bloody, inedible mess. But a .22 rimfire rifle, used judiciously, can take grouse regularly and safely, and produce edible results. I know. I did a lot of it, even though it was technically illegal at the time.
Hunting grouse with a .22 takes more skill than hunting them with a shotgun. A good dog helps immensely. Where grouse have not been hunted hard, a dog is just another four-legged predator. My dog and I hunted as a team. A Labrador, he was a natural hunter and retriever. He would range ahead, find a grouse, and tree it. My job was to creep up and shoot it. It’s common for a grouse to fly into a nearby tree and sit there, confident of its invulnerability to the predator on the ground.
My dog quickly taught his boy that he barked differently for grouse or squirrels. His barking would lead me to the spot, even in dense cover. Grouse had to be approached with more care than squirrels. Knowing what you are looking for makes them easier to spot. A good dog will quickly retrieve a grouse knocked to the ground, and bring the bird to you. The hard part: seeing the grouse within rifle range before they fly away. People have shot grouse on the fly, with a rifle, but I’m not one of them. I don’t recommend it.
The grouse above is fairly typical. When they’re on the alert, they hold their head high, the neck stretched up. I took this picture in January; the feathers are fluffed up. When you’re dressing out your first couple of grouse, examine them closely to understand their anatomy. It will help in knowing where to aim.
I learned that a .22 does not spoil much meat, even if the grouse is shot through the breast. The point of a folded wing is a good aiming spot, as is a little below the base of the neck from any angle. Head shots make for better bragging rights, but the base of the neck is an easier target. I would not use hyper velocity .22 cartridges for this sort of hunting. Standard velocity is enough, and quieter.
Truth be told, I’ve missed a fair number of grouse. Fortunately, a .22 in the woods is relatively quiet. The grouse often fell on the second shot.
Pick a hole between the twigs and branches; it’s surprising how much a twig can deflect a bullet. When you’re shooting at a small target, hitting a twig means a probable miss. A scope makes it easier to miss twigs and branches that can be masked by iron sights.
If you’re hunting with a rifle and shooting into the air, you need to know the country and the direction you are shooting. You don’t want to accidentally shoot someone or break a neighbor’s window. It doesn’t apply only to grouse. Squirrels are shot out of trees as well. When I hunted grouse with the Village Gun, I knew where the neighbors’ houses were, and how far a bullet would travel. Quick digression . . .
The warnings on today’s .22 LR boxes say the bullet can travel a mile-and-a-half. That’s under optimum conditions with a lot of safety factor thrown in. It’s very hard to get a .22 LR to travel more than a mile. At the end of the mile, a .22 LR bullet will be traveling at about 200- 240 feet per second. It could put your eye out, but is unlikely to be fatal. For common .22 LR ammo, a mile is the max range. At angles higher than 35 degrees, the range decreases. Fired at higher angles, the terminal velocity will likely be less than 200 fps.
I didn’t know any of that when I was 12. I knew a bit about trajectories from firing countless pebbles from slingshots. The .22 cartridge box said one mile, so I was careful to avoid shooting in the air toward neighbors’ houses. It was easy. There were only three within a mile, all of them on one side of the Namekagon River, South of where I lived. So all shots aimed toward Northeast or around the compass, toward North, or West, toward South were good.
I remember the first grouse I shot. It was fall and grouse season, late afternoon. One of my brothers came running into the house, saying that there was a grouse behind the log cabin (a shed we used for storage, sided with slab wood).
I grabbed the Village Gun, and loaded a couple of cartridges into the magazine. I was out the door in a few seconds. Grouse, once flushed, will not sit in a tree forever. I carefully approached the referenced spot. I used the shed for cover. Then, stealthily, moving behind it, I searched the trees for the bird. There it was! Sitting in birch tree about 20 feet off the ground. I picked the base of the neck for the shot. The Village Gun was dead on at 15 yards, and the bird fell when the little rifle spat.
The bullet was headed North Northwest, and I knew there were no houses in that direction for miles. Once a .22 bullet hits something, it is almost certainly destabilized. The max range is dramatically reduced.
The bird above is in a crabapple tree. Crab apples are a favorite food for grouse. I regularly checked out crabapple locations when grouse hunting. Much of my grouse hunting was along old logging roads. In many spots, clover had taken root. Clover is another favored grouse food. The old logging roads had areas of exposed gravel, where grouse would obtain the grit they need to grind up their food. I spent far more time on foot, traveling those old logging roads, than I did on pavement on a bicycle.
Growing up on the edge of semi-wilderness spoiled me for a lot of hunting. Being able to grab your rifle and be hunting once you step out the door, is a wonderful thing.
©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included. Link to Gun Watch