You Do Not Need a Double Gun to be an Upland Hunter

You Do Not Need a Double Gun to be an Upland Hunter

An Exploration into the Personal Ethics and Community of Upland Hunting Shotguns

Lately, there has been an increasing amount of “heat” around the shotgun choices of upland hunters of every stage and stripe. Now, the rant that could follow that statement could be contained in volumes. Instead of adding to the rants, we have decided to take the approach of addressing each myth one-by-one over the course of time so as not to cause a larger and more hostile panic from any one camp. This first myth I’d like to address is the idea that you need to shoot a double gun to be a bird hunter. The conversation certainly has some depth to it as that perception increases and decreases depending on which subculture you find yourself in. But here’s the short form summary of this whole article – shoot whatever shotgun that works for you.

I will start first in the area I’m most seasoned – grouse hunting. Double guns are a beautiful thing. I personally made the switch some six or so years ago. It’s possible I would have sooner, but money was always a factor. Before I toted my first over-and-under, I shot an 870 pump Youth Model 20-gauge. It’s still in my safe and I still use it on the rare occasion I deer hunt. It kills deer, and ruffed grouse, without discrimination. No grouse has yet to cry “fowl.”

Some years back, I handed a semi-automatic shotgun to one of my camera guys. A grouse got up and he shot it (on the wing) with one shot. Later that day, another cameraman shot his first grouse with an 870 pump (again, on the wing). Then a bird got shot in the road, with a double gun. It was that gentleman’s first . . .

A first grouse taken during a Project Upland film shoot.

All versions of the above story are potentially frowned upon in the eyes of the some based on two factors: choice of gun and location of the grouse. Beginning with the issue of gun choice, the fact of the matter is that Fox, Parker, and L.C. Smith typically don’t make good entry-level shotguns. Neither do premium Italian-crafted over-and-under or European side-by-side brands. And regarding the location of the grouse, can you honestly say you’ve never shot a grouse in the “pre-flight” position? If yes, more power to you. Either way, I only ask that you remember where you started and where somebody else might be on the spectrum of newbie to pro.

There are certainly ethics to be observed when you take to the field as well as laws that are required, not suggested. But the particular ethics I am talking about here are relative to the person, not normative to the whole world of grouse hunting. And just because one hunter has confined their personal ethic to only shooting grouse over a staunch pointing dog while carrying a vintage side-by-side and then kneeling as their setter returns the bird to hand, that doesn’t mean that someone else’s approach is wrong. The reality is most ruffed grouse rarely behave for anyone and, statistically speaking, the setter most likely didn’t bring the bird back to hand. (Sorry, I love setters, but we all know it’s true). And the irony is that many of these advocates sometimes seem to have amnesia about how they arrived at their current ethical framework.

Personal standards dictate the use of a double gun, not some official rule of grouse hunting. No one is shooting up hordes of grouse because they have semi-automatics. The ruffed grouse himself sees to that, challenging as he is. Additionally, I have no doubt that birds will always be shot off roads (unless it’s outlawed) no matter the gauge, action, or age of a shotgun. And quite frankly, if you think any of the above is the true threat to the future of ruffed grouse populations – wake up, there are bigger issues.

Semi-automatics catch the most flak in the upland world. Less so in the Western states, but especially in the South. Our recent film “Flushing Grouse” particularly caught some isolated grumbling. According to some, you cannot use a semi-automatic to shoot at ruffed grouse! Imagine now if they are public land quail, and the hunters are following up on singles! Perhaps it would be more acceptable at the $3000 per day hunting experience where the birds are “managed” in a different manner? But then again, if you can afford $3000 a day for quail hunting, you can probably afford the London Best . . . no need for that all-around semi-auto. Ethical dilemma solved.

A bobwhite quail taken on public land with a semi-automatic shotgun.

I cannot say I’ve ever heard or seen a rant from or against those chukar folks — who generally seem like more of a sadistic club than those in the grouse hunting community — about what gun you can and cannot use. Apparently, they seem more concerned with running up impossible terrain while trying not to break an ankle than to worry about someone’s superior opinion.

The same goes for the pheasant hunting world. Not that I’ve ever shot a wild pheasant, but some of the New England stocked birds I happen upon in woodcock covers certainly can take the heat. I will take any shots I’m afforded (I’ve got a hungry freezer) and that seems to be the sentiment of the general community.

In short, you should shoot the shotgun that works for you. You should make your decision based on what matters to you, whether it’s price, fit, or anything else that has nothing to do with my (or anyone else’s) life and opinions. Upland hunting is a single user experience with a very large and intertwined community. Follow the laws, be mindful of the conservation issues that surround your pursuit, and don’t forget about ethics. If anyone has a case to make for this gun over that or this method of take versus that, we should be glad to hear it. And also glad, if their cases don’t woo us, to shrug it off and go about our business.

And to those that would insist on a certain type of gun or a certain type of method of take, I can guarantee that no one’s mind was ever changed by a red-faced judgemental rant. You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

Sure I shoot a side-by-side these days, but that’s my bubble and while I write this, my semi-auto is sitting by my desk ready to be cleaned after a solid turkey hunting season.

Last modified: July 14, 2019

10 Responses to :
You Do Not Need a Double Gun to be an Upland Hunter

  1. Gary Dunning says:

    A side by side or o/u break open action is inherently safer. For those who hunt with repeaters rarely if ever observe safety precautions ingrained for many of us using double guns afield. This was emphasized to those of us who learned hunter safety in my Bucks County Pennsylvania community in the 1950’s – 1960’s. I routinely break the action upon negotiating myriad obstacles encountered pursuing quail in rugged hilly terrain here in California.

  2. Brett Madsen says:

    100% agree with the author. “Use what works for you”. I own side x sides, an over-under, a semi and started hunting with a New Haven pump that I used for years. I’m constantly switching up guns that I feel match or give me an advantage on the different bird species we hunt. Beaters and repeaters on Chukars, double guns on grouse and whatever strikes my fancy on quail and pheasants or any bird for that matter. I enjoy all types of guns, why shame yourself or others into thinking it needs to be a certain type of action.
    Also, you can take that an extra measure of safety using a repeater. Just open the bolt when crossing rough terrain, fences and such. That’s what we were taught and how me and my hunting partners have always handled the semis and pumps in the field.

  3. Chad Johnston says:

    Don’t over think it Millennials, have fun buy what you can afford.

    1. Jesse Sopiwnik says:

      Surprised this needed to be said. Side by sides are going the way of the dinosaur as older owners selling off their vintage guns with few buyers. Younger hunters drawn to modern guns. I love the tradition of double guns but would never judge anyone’s choice in the uplands.c

  4. Kent Folsom says:

    As someone who’s spent several decades hunting most of the birds the plains and woods offer, that advice makes sense. Carry the gun you can afford and the gun that makes it fun. The rest is pretty simple: follow the rules and don’t be a jackass. These days I’m less about the head-count and more about the experience — living in the moment. I love the traditions and the connections to our past, and usually carry a simple, classic shotgun. A pump, a hump-back auto, a double … they’re all older than me and most aren’t particularly valuable, but they all do the job and none is just a tool.

  5. Jim says:

    Nice write up on what can be a touchy topic. It brought back some fond memories.
    The gentleman who taught me to bird hunt, over 50 years ago, carried an old Winchester Model 97 he learned to shoot in the army (WWI). The Model 97 (1897) was a pump action that came in at over 8 lbs and would not be labeled “fancy”. He had choice comments for the “sports” who carried fancy guns and worried more about the hardware than they did about actually hunting. He would waste no time telling me he’d rather spend his money on dogs and hunting trips. I spent my early years on numerous hunting trips watching an 80+ year old drop grouse, pheasants and ducks with that old gun.

    As an earlier post wrote, don’t over think it and have fun. It’s not about the gun.

  6. Jess says:

    This article should be required reading by the staff and management at the Pine Ridge grouse camp, among others. Sometimes the real point of the excercise is missed.
    40+ years an upland hunter.

  7. Dale B says:

    The upland world, especially of the grouse persuasion, is at the moment inherently elitist. While the guns are just the start, it encompasses dogs, gear, covers, and even amazingly enough hunting style. The culture has been molded in this fashion for the better part of a century. I have seen first hand how those who have embraced that culture shun anyone looking in. This mindset has had so many negative repercussions. Thankfully some of the younger generation (Project Upland and others) have started to shed this way of thinking and broken into this world to bring access to the masses whether or not the old timers like it. We need more tattoos and beat up semi-autos. Bring the short haired dogs, the bearded dogs and the breeds nobody has heard of. We don’t need fancy expensive gear, we need more men and women picking up a scatter gun to kick up dust and follow a dog.

  8. I love hunting chukar with a side by side. But for financial reasons I too started with a pump. My thought is, like yours, whatever gun works for you, but seriously, it’s always more fun with a side by side.

  9. Kerry Hanes says:

    I prefer my hunting partners to use a double as it’s easier for me to see that the gun is safe for fence crossings and other situations where muzzle control is a challenge. For those who think they don’t need to open the action in these situations, no matter if they are double or repeating guns, consider an accident that happened a few years ago where a pheasant hunter laid his loaded gun flat on the ground before crossing a fence before his dog stepped on the trigger and shot him in the foot!

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