Sunday, 6 November 2011

A limit of grouse

It doesn't happen all that often that I shoot a limit of grouse.  I did this afternoon.  Erdos was birdy from the moment we got out of the truck -- but he knows the spot and he's been cooped up in the house most of October while I was chasing deer and elk.  We got to this favored covert after a somewhat dicey ride through heavy snow.  As I loaded my shotgun my mind was partially occupied by prospect of getting stuck on the way back out.

We left the truck and hunted into a replanted clear-cut.  Six or eight years ago these trees were waist high, now they're about three times the height of a man.  The stand of pines was thinned a couple of  years ago and the loggers left the cut trees lying every where and every which way -- this makes for hard walking and almost impossible shooting.  I usually just pass through this mess to hunt the edges.  But, still in the cut, Erdos  went on point.  I followed his lead, him acting like we were going to jump a covey of grouse at any second.  He would stop on point, and, after moving ahead of him, expecting a shot at any second, on signal he would move ahead another 20 or 40 feet before going on point again. I saw grouse tracks in the snow, lots of them.

Erdos' nose found them first, but there's no confirmation like grouse tracks in the snow.

We followed the tracks to the end of the trial they formed. They ended under a small tree surrounded by fresh dropping  with nearby brush marks left in the snow from them taking wing.  There were no birds in sight and no telling which way they'd gone.

Lots of tracks and fresh droppings.
It's usually best to let a hunt unfold on its own, guided by the dog's nose and interest. This is true even if the flow of the hunt veers from the preconceived map in the hunters head.  Even if that preconception was formed based on a previously successful hunt in the same place.  Grouse are creatures of habit and if you've found them in a particular area you're quite likely to find them in the same area again.  That said, you rarely find them in exactly the same spot you did before. You need to trust the dogs nose.

Dogs prefer to hunt into the wind though of course it's generally impossible to leave your truck and hunt into the wind and end up back at the same place.  From our deadend at the grouse droppings  Erdos wanted to hunt into the wind back toward the truck.  My own mental map of the hunt had us walk out of the opposite side of the cut. Today, this meant the wind would be quartering into our backs from our right.  We hunted less than a half a mile down a gentle ridge away from the cut.  On this diversion from Erdos' plan I saw deer, elk, moose, bobcat (I think), coyote, rabbit, squirrel, chipmunk and mouse tracks in the snow.  No sign of grouse. I came to my senses and circled back to the point where the grouse tracks had ended and followed Erdos' plan.  It lead us out of the cut into the older timber -- and onto more tracks. Lots of them.

On point.  There's birds ahead. 
As we hunted forward, Erdos went on point, not the intense one signaling birds right here, but the casual point saying to me, there are birds ahead.  Another 40 yards and he stopped, crouching on point and would not budge.  I knew the birds were very close.  I spotted on in a tree not ten feet from me.    And then one took off and then another and maybe a dozen all together.  Standing ready, the explosion of beating wings is still startling.  Before they were gone, I got off three shots dropping two birds.

I haven't often had good luck trying to follow up on blue grouse in this kind of thick cover (woodcock are a completely different story.) But, since three is a limit and we had two, we walked into the timber in the direction they'd flown.  Not fifty yards in, Erdos went on point -- and wouldn't budge.  I walked forward to find a bleeding grouse lying dead in the snow. The second time this year Erdos found a dead bird I was sure I'd missed.


  1. Well done nice pics. No snow here yet. i have to lay down the shotgun and pickup the rifle. I need my winters meat. Great blog bye the way


  2. Thanks Dan. I enjoy big game hunting as much as bird hunting, though I know my dog prefers it when we're hunting birds together.