A number of years ago when I was a working newspaper editor, the silent unsung heroes of the newsroom operation were the copy editors on the copy desk. These word-and-fact sleuths did not wear green eye shades or elastic arm bands, but they were meticulous and detail oriented to a fault. They were the gate keepers — the final check before the news story went to press and then on to the readers.

Nothing got by the copy desk unchecked. And these yeomen checked for more than spelling, grammar, and run-on sentences. If something didn’t add up, if a fact was suspect, their job was to challenge the reporter or the desk editor, who gave the story the green light.

Since then, for almost 30 years, I have been writing this weekly outdoor column for this paper and a number of others in Maine. I have no copy desk to “proof” this column before it is sent to my client newspapers. There is Diane, however. Not only is she my wife of more than 50 years, my cribbage partner and extraordinary cook, she is a second set of eyes to look over this column before it is sent out.

Her sharp eyes and grammar knowledge have saved me more than once. Editors at my client newspapers have also caught mistakes before they wound up engraved in black type for all to see.

But, alas, back in August I made a beaut, a significant math error in an article about Ruffed Grouse that just slid on by me, Diane, and, as far as I know, the client newspaper editors as well.

The piece in question was a tribute to Maine’s most popular and sought-after legendary upland game bird. Sporting literature has over the years, with no small measure of hyperbole, helped along the grouse’s sterling reputation as exceedingly elusive, hunter wary and very fast. Inadvertently, I contributed to the myth building by stating that the grouse flew at 900 feet per second!

That number caught some readers’ attention. They wrote to me, “C’mon, man. They are fast, but not that fast!” Another wrote, “ Wow, no wonder I have such a hard time hitting them in the air.” A friend, who enjoyed poking me in the eye, observed: “At that speed a grouse could take off from Bangor International Airport and land in Rochester, New York in one hour!” My critic ground it in by reminding me that some handguns don’t shoot bullets that fast.

My face is red. In fact, a grouse’s top speed is 35 mph. If my math serves, and you might want to double-check me, that computes to 51.3 feet per second. A grouse that flies at 900 feet per second is supersonic at sea level, 613 mph, or as the test pilots say, Mach One.

So where did the 900 feet per second come from? We are still checking our research notes. In all probability, 90 feet per second was found by me in a grouse book that took liberties as well with grouse speeds. My clumsy typing style clicked in an excess zero that did not belong.

My apologies to all, especially to the Ruffed Grouse, who is a stalwart and impressive game bird in its own right and needs no marketing hoopla from me.

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program, “Maine Outdoors,” heard at 7 p.m. Sundays on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books; online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.net. 

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