Gerald Almy: Grouse hunting missteps to avoid

Gerald Almy

In last week’s column, we looked at some common errors grouse hunters make that reduce their chances for bagging this elusive brown and black quarry. Here are 10 more mistakes we should all try to avoid as we hike through the sere, gray forests this winter in search of this intriguing black and russet gamebird.

One.  Not stopping at the best locations. Make sure you’re in a clear area when you pause so you can raise the gun and swing it without the barrel catching on a grape vine or sapling growth. Also, be sure to stop near enough to the prime cover that when a bird flushes it wont be too far to shootFinally, chose a spot where there won’t be an obstruction between you and the quarry when it flushes. 

Two. Hunting inappropriate cover. There are generally two types of habitat in a typical forest. One is open, park-like, with mature timber. It looks like a nice place to take a walk or have a picnic. 

And then there’s grouse cover. It’s thick, congested, overgrown with grapevines, greenbrier and dense sapling growth. There‘s greenbrier, laurel, rhododendron and thick sapling growth. Sometimes the area has been growing back from clear-cutting. It makes for tough walking and tough shooting. But that’s where the grouse are. 

Three. Not finding the food. Not only do you need to find this thick habitat, you can improve your chances further by pinpointing areas within these dense jungles that provide grouse the most food. It could be grapes, honeysuckle, ferns, greenbrier, or acorns.

Dogwoods are also favored, as are hawthorn, alder, blackberry, raspberry, viburnum, plum, sumac, ash, birch, cranberry, and olives. Old abandoned orchards can also attract the birds for the leftover fruit. Ridges are often best early in the season. Later switch to hollows, stream bottoms and more protected cover.

Four. Hunting too close to the road. Birds will be warier and spookier near parking areas. They‘ll also be present in lower numbers because of the hunting pressure they’ve been exposed to. Hike in a quarter or half mile, and then start hunting. You’ll find more birds and they’ll be less skittish.

Five. Using wide-ranging bird dogs. A dog can be a great help in grouse hunting. But if you have a wide-roaming dog that doesn’t stay close and obey commands well, it can actually bump more birds out of range than it points for you. 

By all means, bring a dog if he’s trained to hunt close and knows how grouse behave. Otherwise, you might do better off just jump shooting the birds. 

Six. Not shooting quickly enough. This is common among novices in particular. A grouse thunders out of cover so loudly and raucously that it’s shocking. And that flush often occurs right at your feet. 

By the time you collect yourself and raise the gun he will likely put brush or a tree between you and him and vanish before you slap the trigger. Shoot quickly, as soon as you can get the gun up to your shoulder and firmly mounted with your cheek tight on the stock.

Seven. Not being ready for a second or third grouse to flush. If you flush a grouse, there’s often a chance another bird may be in the covert where he was. Be ready for a second chance if you missed the first bird.  

Eight. Not watching carefully where a flushed bird flies. If you miss a grouse, there’s a decent chance you can re-flush it. But to do that you need to watch carefully as it flies away and get a good sense of where it might have landed. Often it will fly through a semi-open area and land then run into the next thick patch of cover. Pay attention and you may get a second, or even a third crack at that bird.

Nine. Hunting in areas exposed to strong winds. Grouse don’t like wind. It robs them of their ability to sense movement of brush and potential approaching predators. And in winter it robs them of body heat and chills them. Look for hollows, valleys, dips, and sides of hills protected from the strongest breezes to bag the most grouse. 

10. Hunting alone. When possible, always try to bring a buddy or two along on grouse hunting trips. It’s much easier to thoroughly hunt a patch of cover if two bodies are walking through it, trying to flush birds. Often you’ll move a grouse that will fly by your partner and vice versa. That will give you extra shooting opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise have. 

Four eyes are also better than two for finding dead birds. And it’s simply more rewarding to walk through the woods with a companion who can share the joys and frustrations of chasing America’s most challenging upland game bird.

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