Hunting on the Side: Three Ways to Add Variety to Your Russian Capercaillie and Black Grouse Hunt

Capercaillie is the main, but not the only, trophy of Russian bird hunting

Capercaillie and black grouse are the highlights of the Russian spring. But suppose you’ve got  your trophy on Day 1 of a 5-day pre-paid safari, or simply want to diversify your hunting adventure. Isn’t there anything else you could do?

Of course there is.

Five types of game birds are legal to hunt in Russia in the spring, and the season covers them all. In addition to capercaillie and black grouse, there are geese, ducks (male only), and woodcock.

Thousands of Bean Geese migrate to Russia in spring

Geese: A Rare Treat Indeed.

The most recent data from North American white geese populations suggests that spring season may not be really that harmful. Anyway, in Russia a spring season on geese is very much open, and is an extremely popular affair. Hunting is done in the traditional manner, from blinds with decoys on the fields where the birds feed. However, the caveat is that wide open spaces that make good resting stations for migrating geese are seldom located anywhere near good grouse habitat. You may ask your outfitter, but expect to hear “Sorry, but… “.

Ancient tradition of hunting with live decoys is still alive in Russia

An Ancient Tradition Alive: Mallard Drakes over a Live Decoy

Ducks, however, are much less picky, and there might be a nice lake, marsh or flooded river bed on the preserve where you hunt black grouse and capercaillie. Here you may have a chance to participate in the ancient tradition of hunting with live decoys. This is not the exterminating market hunter’s slaughter you’re probably thinking about – tough restrictions are in place to make sure only a very limited amount of only male birds is harvested.

The Russian live decoy duck at work is a sight to behold. It is much more than an animated quacking dummy – its goal is to attract sexually obsessed drakes who are on the lookout for loose females, and it pursues it very actively. In fact, enthusiasts breed them like pointers. In any case, a blind in good near-water habitat is a nice place to be for its own sake – opportunities to observe Russian wildlife are innumerable, and a drake or two, in their magnificent spring plumage, will add a nice touch to your experience (and your dinner).

Waiting for woodcock’s evening mating flight is often described as Russia’s “most poetic hunt”.

Woodcock: On the Footsteps of Tolstoy and Turgenev.

Woodcock was a favorite bird of every great Russian writer who was a sportsman, and the spring mating flight was their favorite way of taking them. In a nutshell, every evening woodcock males go looking for females by flying low and slowly, with peculiar “tsk”-ing sound, along edges of the wood, clearings, or tracks, and you simply wait for them in such places. No blind or call or sophisticated camouflage is necessary. Open your Anna Karenina, flip to the part where Oblonsky visits Levin at his estate, and you’ll find perhaps the best description of what it’s all about.

Woodcock mating flight is the opposite of a driven grouse shoot. There’s no fear you’re going to burn your fingertips off the barrels – an evening when you get to see a dozen of mating males in range is legendary, and two birds per day is considered a decent bag. The main attraction of this hunt is the poetic atmosphere of a forest in spring. Dusk, as every hunter knows, is the most animated time in any habitat – the day dwellers harry to finish their affairs and settle for the night, while the nightly birds and beasts rise from their slumber to tether for whatever their business may be. And you’ll find yourself right in the middle of this action – with a wide variety of songbirds providing the soundtrack. Just being there is a rare treat.

A Russian wood in spring is a nice place to be, hunting or not.

Good grouse habitat is usually rich in woodcock too, and the action takes place in the evening, not in the morning, so this “most poetic of Russian hunts” combines well with your adventure on the leks. If you have environmental or ethical concerns, you don’t have to shoot – but waiting at the edge of a forest to hear the mysterious mating call of the “woodland snipe”, like the noble characters of Tolstoy and Turgenev, is an opportunity you simply can’t miss.

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