Friday, 14 September 2012

Rainy Afternoon Grouse

 “The physics of beauty is one department of natural science still in the Dark Ages. Everybody knows that the autumn landscape in the northwoods is the land, plus a red maple, plus a ruffed grouse. In terms of conventional physics, the grouse represents only a millionth of either the mass or the energy of an acre. Yet subtract the grouse and the whole thing is dead. An enormous amount of some kind of motive power has been lost. – Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac”

In the quote above, Aldo Leopold was writing about Ruffed Grouse, here in Wyoming I hunt Blue Grouse.  Hunted behind a dog, blues are not all that different from their ruffed cousins. The blue grouse is a bit larger, probably a bit slower, and possibly dumber - but they inhabit the same kind of cover as the ruffed grouse and they perhaps hold a bit better for a dog than a ruffie does.  In terms of their ability to escape from danger - they are no less wily, they somehow always manage to put a tree between themselves and the hunter before they embark on their  thunderous escape.

Blue grouse hunting starts on September first in Wyoming. It's the first bit of the hunting season. For me, there is a nice symbiosis between grouse hunting and hunting for deer and elk.  Grouse tend to inhabit the edges of the best elk habitat and they live in the same country mule deer do.  This means that a grouse hunt is more than a casual deer and elk scouting trip. And it works the other way as well, I have found my best grouse coverts by noticing birds while hunting deer and elk.

Hard work on a rainy afternoon in the grouse coverts.
One day earlier this week Mike and I managed to get away from work a few hours early to hit some favorite grouse coverts.  I prefer to not say which day that was. We did not plan on the rain - hell, it hasn't rained here in weeks.  Never mind, I followed Erdos carrying the new Sidley 20GA SxS and Mike followed his setter Luna carrying one of a pair of 16GA Woodwards. We got into birds, big males in one covert and some young of the year in another.

Mike and Erdos in good cover. Where Luna?
The grouse theorists pretty much all say that at this time of year the big males will be up high and the young of the year down lower near water.  It's all about the altitude - when you find birds - stay at that level and you'll find more.  This theory may make perfect sense along the Front Range in CO where the forest starts around 6000 feet and goes up to around 10,000 in a kind of continuous rise.  Here in southeast Wyoming, the forest starts around 7500 feet and in large areas there is not a lot of elevation gain or loss for many many square miles.  There are grouse there and they don't migrate up or down as much as the biologists might have us believe.  I think they a re more keyed to water than altitude in these areas.  Once the snow flies, they are freer to find the big Firs they like for winter cover. My evidence is that I tend to find grouse year round in the same spots every year and it seems to have little to do with altitude.  Where I mostly hunt - it's all high - around 8000 feet or more.

Sidley 20GA with a brace of Blues.
In the first covert Mike and I hit we got into a large covey of big male birds. There were at least eight birds, maybe more, I lost count.  I only managed one bird there though a good shot might have had her limit and an unethical hunter even more than the allowed three.  The bird I shot was a big male as were the others in covey - or so I believe. In the second bit of cover we hit, one I had never hunted before but which looked good, Erdos went on point and a bird flushed as I moved up. It uncannily managed to perfectly place a tree between me and his escape.  As the bird exploded out of the cover, I shot the tree and the bird flew off unharmed.  And then, for the first time this year, Erdos did not run off after the escaping bird. He has a great nose but he suffers from having had a poor trainer. (That would be me.) When he does run off after a bird he bumps the others in the covey on his way and I am reduced to watching them all bombing up and flying off into the distance. A beautiful sight - but not the one I hope for.  This time, with some serious urging from me, he stayed with me.  He pointed another bird quite nearby and as is flew up I managed to cleanly drop a mature female.

Mike and Luna with a brace of grouse.

On the way out, we spotted a covey crossing the road.  We stopped and moved in on the birds and  Mike managed some nice shooting and dropped two birds on the wing as darted off between the pines.

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Even though all of us, dogs and men, got very wet, it was a wonderful afternoon.  The symbiosis of the grouse and elk hunt was working too, in anticipation of upcoming elk seasons, we spotted two nice bull elk on the drive out.


  1. Even though wet, it looks like a great day spent with beautiful dogs,guns and birds. Season here opens Saturday

  2. Hi Dan,
    It really was a great afternoon. Good luck on your opener!

  3. They do exist!! For a second I thought people were lying about Blue Grouse being in Wy...

  4. James, Yes - they do exist! If you try hunting elk you'll be shocked at how many grouse you see. This is what I call the "grouse problem" and is a topic for another post. The covert we hunted first on the rainy day (and I think you know which day that was) is a place I found elk hunting. Symbiosis. I saw a grouse fly up into a tree. I came back the next day with Erdos and jumped a dozen or more. They're creatures of habit (and habitat), once you find a good sized covey, they seem to be near that spot year after year.

  5. Solid write up. Thanks for your words.