Saturday, 6 September 2008

Grouse Hunting

Blue grouse, also known as "fool hens" can be hard to find but are easy to kill. When you do find them, they'll frequently reveal themselves by jumping from the ground into a nearby tree and will just sit on a branch and look at you. If you have murder in your heart or are thinking of grouse in mustard sauce, they're done for. Mostly you'll see them behave like this when you're not hunting grouse but are maybe after an elk, a far more substantial meal. Because they so often exhibit this foolish behavior, they are often disrespected as quarry for "serious" bird hunters. But early in the season (which starts in September hereabouts) they can provide some truly classic bird hunting over a dog. This hunting involves a lot of walking in spectacular country. The grouse tend to hold tight for a good pointing dog, the sound of their wings as they flush will startle you every time and they will bob and weave on exit. I think the holding tight for the dog comes from their strategy for dealing with coyotes and other predators.

Erdos, my Vizsla, is a natural bird dog. We killed the grouse shown in the photo after walking at least four miles away from the truck into the Platte River Wilderness area. We found no grouse on our way in, though we did find a rather distinctive mule deer shed.

I'd pretty much given up on finding any birds but on out way back to the truck, and at most a half a mile from where we'd started, we got into them. I sat down on a log to rest for a minute, and Erdos, wondering why we'd stopped, continued to hunt without me nearby. And then he got very birdy. Grouse are gallinacious and spend a lot of time walking around on the ground. Vizslas are pointers, and with a little help from me, Erdos has trained himself to follow a scent on the ground to the bird, and then to hold point. This is a good habit for a dog to have for pheasant hunting too, Datus Proper talks about this in his pheasant book. A pheasant will run a half a mile or more, and you don't want the dog pointing where the bird was, but where the bird is. After following scent, losing it, circling out to pick it up again, and then going on point I flushed the grouse not 50 feet from where I'd sat down. The bird flew and I was pleased that I managed to drop it with a single shot. Grouse are gregarious, and where there is one there is usually another. There weren't any other grouse paling around with that one so we moved on.

After I shoot at a bird, Erdos, who is almost but not quite still a puppy, goes wild. He rushes around like a crazy dog, a habit I need to break. Further along toward the truck, and running wild, he jumped two grouse without pointing them and I had no shot. I called him in and an made him heel and he started to settle down. As we walked through a rather sparse and scrubby aspen grove with tall grass, he scented and then pointed three more birds. I dropped one of them as it flew off and at the shot, four more birds jumped and I killed one of them with the second barrel. A limit! Not a usual occurrence for me.

This was amazingly good bird hunting. It was as good as any ruffed grouse and woodcock hunting I did near Ithaca. It was as good as and any quail or woodcock hunting I'd done in Virginia.

When elk hunting you invariably walk long distances in the just kind of country that blue grouse call home. One year I hunted blue grouse in September with no luck at all and once elk season opened in mid-October I saw grouse on almost every outing. Out of frustration, I finally popped one with the .270 and was lucky enough to make a head shot and so had some dinner. But of course, shooting a high powered rifle does nothing to help keep the elk in the area either. I refer to this as the "grouse problem". An elk rifle is not the best weapon for collecting a grouse for the pot. I solved my grouse problem by buying a 22 LR revolver, a beautiful little vintage Smith & Wesson model 16 kit gun. This is exactly what this gun was designed for. It is meant to go in your "kit" and be used for pot shooting grouse and rabbits. When I remember to, I carry it with me elk hunting. It has proved itself to be a useful solution to the grouse problem but does raise a whole other set of problems, mostly of being able to shoot and kill chicken sized birds with a revolver.

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