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He's par for the course
Lionel Atwill
December 24, 1979
If ruffed grouse shooting were handicapped like golf, Landy Bartlett of Dorset, Vt. would most assuredly qualify as a scratch competitor
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December 24, 1979

He's Par For The Course

If ruffed grouse shooting were handicapped like golf, Landy Bartlett of Dorset, Vt. would most assuredly qualify as a scratch competitor

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Landy offers me the shot, but I am 10 yards behind, puffing, and I defer. He moves in, crouched over with the Winchester still in one hand. "Looks like a woodcock from the way he's holding so tight," he says, and a second later a woodcock spirals up from under Ruffs nose, twists in the air and darts to the left on whistling wings.

But Landy is too quick. Without coming out of his crouch, he mounts his gun and fires. It is a gunfighter's moveā€”pure reflex. There is no conscious tracking, no calculated aiming. The gun fires the moment it touches his shoulder, and the woodcock falls.

"Find the birdie, Bucko. Birdie over here, Ruff." Ruff vacuums the leaves for scent, finds the bird and brings it in. "Damn, I really hate to shoot these little guys. They're migratory and they get shot at all along their route. But when I get a good point, I've got to gun one for Ruff. You've got to shoot for the dog, but I really try not to shoot many of them any more. Heck, I used to shoot them hard. Five years ago I popped 140 or so."

We hunt on for an hour and a half. There is scant talk between master and dog. No whistle blowing. No shouting. Occasionally, Landy will speak to Ruff like the old hunting partner he is: "Why don't you try over here, Bucko," or, "Come on, Ruff, let's get to work." When Ruff accidentally bumps a bird, which both of us miss, Landy only mutters, "Will you look at that fool dog. Bucko, what's wrong with you today?" Then he chastises himself for his shooting, although he had hesitated to give me the first shot: "That was one of the best shots I've had this season, and I missed that bird clean. Fool grouse came out of there sounding like a washerwoman shaking out a wet rag. Damn, how could I have missed." I had missed it with a certain grace, and for that was quite pleased.

We hunt on until noon, flushing several birds, most of which I shoot at and miss. Ruff, we believe, is scowling at us, so we head back to the car and drive to the general store in Danby Four Corners for a lunch of ham and cheese on white, Cokes and Snickers bars.

Most people hunt grouse in the morning and the late afternoon, the times of day when the birds are most apt to be out feeding in the fall, but Landy hunts all day, in rain and snow, in hardwood stands, where grouse sometimes feed on beechnuts, and in more traditional coverts of overgrown farmland.

By 2 I am exhausted; Landy is fresh and excited about "a hell of a covert just at the top of the ridge." We trudge up, tight to Ruff, who has not varied his gait from a purposeful trot all day.

Halfway up the hill, from the far side of an old apple tree, a grouse erupts and crests the ridge full out at 40 mph. I see only a flash of wings, but Landy sees, or feels, more. His sixth-sense radar has locked in. "I think we can get another peek at that bird," he says, so we double-time over the top, off to the right and down into a pit of briars, thorn apples and wait-a-minute vines.

Then the temple bell stills. "Ruffs on him," says Landy.

"He's yours. I'll back you up from here," I answer from the iron-maiden grip of thorns.

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