column By: Glen Blackwood | November, 17
As dusk comes earlier, the evening air is the coldest of the season. It is time to build a fire and ponder the wing shooting reading that will carry us toward spring. While many gravitate toward the lyrical writings of Burton Spiller, Havilah Babcock or Datus Proper, now may be the time to look toward biological books and bulletins; first, to better understand our quarry, and second, to prepare for next season.
I have spent more time recently with this category of writing instead of wing shooting storybooks. This time has kindled an interest in biological writings and their importance to both the upland hunter and the genre of wing shooting literature.
For the purpose of this article, the definition of biological books and bulletins is writings that focus on a species of upland bird. These writings discuss in detail the species’ life history, including topics such as population distribution, breeding, nesting, diet, predation, habitat, management and other species specific topics, e.g., color phases in ruffed grouse and migration times and maps regarding woodcock.
In a world where time and covers seem to be lacking, this understanding allows for more productive time afield. Instead of releasing your dog in a likely cover and hoping for the best (what I call Field of Dreams hunting), one can plan the day’s hunt based upon a better understanding of climate, diet and other information that has been gathered by game bird biologists. This baseline information will not guarantee success but will allow you to hedge your bets. While both biological books and bulletins may contain similar content, they are vastly different in volume of information.
Biological books are written as textbooks in the field of wildlife biology or pertaining to research collected on a game bird species. Prime examples would be The Bobwhite Quail by Herbert L. Stoddard; The Ruffed Grouse written collectively by Gardiner Bump, Robert W. Darrow, Frank C. Edminster and Walter F. Crissey; or The Book of American Woodcock by William G. Sheldon. Titles such as these and other biological books are written for an audience of game bird academicians, researchers and wildlife biologists. While rich in information, they can be tedious to read, as the details discussed are quantified in a scientific fashion. Being one who struggled with textbooks in college, I understand that volumes such as these may not be most appetizing, yet like a buffet line, there is fulfillment in the end. If you are a devotee of one game bird species, then a biological book should be on your reading list.
With that said, if you are an equal opportunity bird shooter, biological bulletins may be a better choice. Where biological books are the multi-course meal on a species, bulletins are condensed into a salad, entrée and dessert menu of a species. Primarily published in paperback, these works give a synopsis of the subject matter, a “game bird Cliff’s Notes,” if you will. Bulletins are by and large focused on a subject species or the species in a given geographic locale. Two examples are The American Woodcock in Pennsylvania and American Woodcock in West Virginia. Although these bulletins discuss the same species, the information presented is different. I found both informative and pertinent. Other bulletins I believe valuable are from the conservation department of Winchester-Western regarding ruffed grouse and ring-necked pheasant written by John Madsen. Published by the Winchester Press, these bulletins blend biological information with a conservation message. Quotes from Aldo Leopold and black-and-white photographs of yesteryear add to their charm.
Biological books and bulletins may not be as commonplace as bird hunting stories but do deserve space on one’s shelves. I encourage you to explore biological works and survive winter learning about game birds.