Spring capercailzie hunting is a Russian classic. The biggest grouse in the world begins its mating ritual with the male sitting on a tree at a special area known as lek, and singing the mating song. During parts of this song, which last for only a few seconds, the male is deaf; that’s when a hunter moves, usually in a form of a couple of giant leaps, in the direction of the bird. This may sound easy, but it really isn’t, as the bird is deaf only for a couple of seconds at a time; otherwise, it can hear very well and, knowing its vulnerability, is extremely wary. The hunter begins the stalk in the dark, going over leftover snow, bogs, fallen trees, and other impossible terrain. A capercailzie doing the lek song is a common theme for Russian engravers.
My Izh-54 Sh grade.
Below is an extract from “Chasing Spring”, by Nikolai Vlasov, published in April 2015 issue of the Russian Hunting Magazine.
We went through the night, across the wood, swamps and beaver dams. Sleepy ducks would take off now and then, breaking the silence of the taiga with their loud expressions of disappointment, curlews sang their quiet songs in the clearings, woodcocks were doing their mating flight over the tops of the pines. The forest was living its life. We took a rest not far from the lek. Sanya was tending his saddle-sore legs, Kolya and Igor lit their cigarettes, and I was listening to the silence, which was now and then broken by the calls of migrating widgeon and the mad cries of the mating hare. These sounds filled my soul with peace. Then we spread; I went with Igor, and Kolya led Sanya into the marsh, their silhouettes soon vanishing in the dark, and only splashing of their feet could be heard. We approached the lek – the capercailzie mating ground, which spread across the kilometer-long ridge overgrown with pines – from the other side.
We took our seat on a fallen tree and listened. The brotherhood of ducks was the first to awake; their quacking and whistling of the wings filled the quiet taiga night as they hurried north to their nesting grounds. Then, a white grouse cock let out his maddening laughter – if you never heard it before, it can sound more scary than a bear’s roar. The white grouse seems to act as a herald, signalling the time to begin the mating ritual on black game and capercailzie leks – and now, covered behind a curtain of pines, we could hear the first part of the mysterious song, which perhaps best personifies the spring. After a while, the clicking of the cocks came from all over the place, and soon the scratches of the second part of the song filled the air, accompanied by passionate gabble of the hens.
“Go” – whispers Igor. I move with the song, making a couple of leaps in the direction of the yet invisible artist as he breaks into the second part of his song. The going is difficult: there is a flowing stream, and some leftover snow which can give a treacherous sound any moment. Then the sound of a gunshot – Sanya’s – comes from the other side of the marsh, and my capercailzie breaks into silence. Soon, however, he resumes his mating songs with doubled enthusiasm. After half an hour of stalking, I can see him on a small pine, with his head tilted back, singing his song to the great Taiga. He is ignorant of the danger, and seems to be oblivious to the fact that the second part of his song makes him deaf and allows death to sneak treacherously up to him… I fire, and he falls like a sack to the ground.
The lek was at full swing by that time, with wings flattering everywhere, and old males fighting each other, encouraged by their ladies. Igor went into the thick of the things, and soon a sharp report of his old hammer double marked the success of his stalk. Next to me, a “silenter” – a young capercailzie cock, not yet old enough to assume an active role at the lek – made a noisy landing on a pine. Things got quiet… and then I saw a flying cock. It was leaning unnaturally to one side in flight, and then suddenly went into a nose-spin and fell. I rushed to pick him up and waited for another shot. Igor returned with a capercailzie, and cast a surprised look at me: “Where did the second one come from? I thought it was a miss!” Soon Kolya and Sanya came over, the latter with a trophy, the former took some pictures. Everyone was overflowing with emotions.