The Art of Pausing on an Upland Hunt

Written by | Basic Uplander, Bird Hunting Articles

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How Taking Your Time Can Equal More Birds on an Upland Hunt.

If you’re like most hunters, you probably feel like there’s just not enough time for hunting. Schedules seem to fill up pretty fast in the fall. Whether we only have one free Saturday to hunt or just want to cover more ground, we’re usually in a rush. While it makes sense that walking extra miles should expose you to more upland birds, the opposite is sometimes true. In fact, taking your time and being thorough will often result in a heavier vest at the end of the day. This is where mastering the art of pausing comes into play.

Why Pausing Works with Upland Hunting

Most of the animals we hunt each autumn, especially small game animals and upland birds, rely heavily on good camouflage and lying motionless to keep them off the average predator’s dinner menu. It usually works pretty well for them too. You’ve probably almost stumbled on a bird while grouse hunting before they flushed, right? But when a predator is too close for comfort and stops suddenly, it sends a clear message to the prey: “You’ve been spotted.”

At that moment, they will usually flush from cover to seek a new hiding place far away from the hungry jaws or eager shotgun behind them. You can use that instinct against them. Whether or not you actually see a bird when you stop isn’t important. What is important is that you’re ready for action each and every time you pause.

A Word of Caution

Before you mentally file this away as a tactic for next fall, read the following warning: do not pause if you’re not ready to make a shot.

I’ve paused in the woods before to grab some water or answer a text message – the reason’s not important…Inevitably when the birds erupted around me, I was unprepared and was left standing frustrated with a pocket full of shells instead of a warm bird.

Before you stop, make sure to find a place you could actually shoot from. A small opening is a good place; a tangled thicket is not. Get your feet planted in a shoulder-width stance with your shotgun in either the port arms position (held diagonally across your body with the muzzle facing up to the left) or even partially mounted. It would help to keep your head on a swivel too, since birds can appear from anywhere around you.

Mostly use the opportunity to listen for the telltale chirps that grouse make right before they flush, as it can give you an indication of where they will show up and which direction you should start mounting your shotgun. But also use your eyes to scan the cover around you; you might just spot one before it even takes wing.

Making the Most of the Pause

How much should you stop throughout the day? It’s a fine balance because you still want to cover some ground, but don’t want to move too fast either. Ideally, pause for a five to eight second count every 30 yards (or whatever your maximum effective shooting range is). That way, if you were too far away from a bird to flush it on one pause, you may be close enough on the next. If you come across a pretty barren stretch where you don’t expect to see birds, you can skip some pauses or move faster to offset the time you spend in high-quality covers.

This is a fantastic solo hunting tactic when you have no hunting partner (human or canine) to flush birds for you. It’s also deadly on young and uneducated birds at the beginning of the season, and can work throughout the fall to some extent. But as the survivors learn our tricks, you might have to make one tweak. Educated grouse will wait to take to the skies until after you start moving again. If you anticipate that possibility and keep your gun ready, however, you may be able to still get a shot at these smart birds before they disappear into the brush.

There are all kinds of upland hunting techniques. If you add this one to your bag of tricks, you’ll have a better chance of having a grouse dinner next fall.

Last modified: May 30, 2017

7 Responses to :
The Art of Pausing on an Upland Hunt

  1. Kevin says:

    I found this to be VERY true in Patagonia Arizona last December – Mearn’s quail would settle and hold… we would stop and watch the dogs as they got birdie – and KABOOM! The covey would erupt and we were simply caught unprepared, as the dogs were trailing the running and them hold birds. most of the time they were singles… but a few coveys fooled us. Great article!

    1. Ryan Lisson says:

      Dogs will definitely force the pause to happen. Just don’t get too caught up reading the dogs while the birds flush! Thanks!

  2. Darrel Feasel says:

    Great article, it always pays to slow down and smell the roses.

  3. Paul Knakkergaard says:

    Just when I thought I had paused long enough, I resisted moving forward for another minute or so, and a swamp rocket erupted! Not every time, but often. Good article. So true.

  4. Joe Wadsworth says:

    I found the same thing last year and it reminded me of what I knew before I started hunting with a dog. I slowed down, I worked cover that my dog passed. I followed my instincts. And I paused more. Last year was better then the one before and hoping this year will be better then last. Great article. Sometimes it takes an article like this to confirm what you were thinking and gives you more confidence in what your doing.

    1. Ryan Lisson says:

      I haven’t hunted with a dog in years, and this was a critical adaptation to make the most of my solo hunts. Here’s to both of us getting a little better next year!

  5. Dan says:

    Oh so true. I don’t have the luxury of a dog so I have to play that part. I’ve hunted this way for decades and it works. My best days are when it’s wet. Slip through the best stuff stopping at the ready. Even after all these years they still trick me. Normally it’s when I stop in an unsuspecting area to catch my breath and boom ! Fooled again. Sorry, but grouse have made every other form of hunting boring. Here’s to a perfect spring with high survival rate for the chicks. Fingers crossed !

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