I love all kinds of grouse, except for one. Get this, in Webster’s, the word “grouse” means: “1 v. to grumble 2. n. a fit of grumbling [origin unknown].” Isn’t that ironic? All grouse hunters who have been outsmarted by a wily ruffed grouse (the trickiest thing in feathers) or who have whiffed an easy shot know exactly where this word came from. No doubt, I have done my share of grousing in the uplands. Now this is a “grouse” that I can live without.
In September of 2004, I experienced such a day of grouse hunting. That morning I hunted one of my favorite covers named, “Grouse Rock,” with two ruffie flushes, but no shots. With the lack of success, I decided to hunt across the canyon on some sage brush benches intersected by numerous wooded draws that I had never before hunted. I have since named this other side, “the Blazing Saddle.” Following is a passage from my sporting journal (which I write in only infrequently):
“. . . .With it being early, I decided to hunt across from Grouse Rock. As I headed to the other side, I was greeted by a Fish & Game warden, who checked my license. Not having seen any blues in Grouse Rock, I asked him, ‘Do you think the blue grouse might be out on the sage brush benches?’ He looked at me like I was stupid and said, ‘Blue grouse are found in the timber. That’s why they call them forest grouse!’
“After some more chit-chat, we parted ways and I hiked up the hill opposite of Grouse Rock. About fifteen minutes into the hike, Dusty stopped and knawed at his paw. I could see cactus spikes protruding from his tender pads and carefully removed them one by one.
“Up further on the bench, there were a few service berry and choke cherry bushes surrounded by sage and buck brush. Under one of the larger choke cherry brushes, Dusty locked up on point, but his tail flagged. Remembering the warden’s insulting comment, I doubted my dog. I also thought: I hope this isn’t a porcupine. (Looking back, I believe I was subconsciously thinking this because I had just pulled the cactus quills from Dusty’s paws).
“Dusty moved off point, but relocated and locked up solid. Something was definitely there and I knew I needed to honor the point. I walked towards where he was pointing and a big blue grouse flushed out the opposite side of the bush. Of course, I missed an easy shot. Trust your bird dog (not an unknowledgable game warden)!
“We continued up the bench, through a quakie patch, with no further bird encounters. So the dogs and I headed across the draw and up to a parallel bench. This bench held some thick timber and we quickly got into birds. Blue grouse were flying everywhere! With the first two flushes, I had no footing and thus, no shot. In fact, on the second flush, I was literally falling on my knees when it busted up. I stepped into a clearing and standing there in front of me was a large blue, which quickly took to wing. I fired, knocked the bird down, and with conviction hollared, ‘Yes!’
“Sunny and I ran over to where the bird went down, but we found nothing. Sunny didn’t seem too interested and she ran up the hill where a grouse unexpectedly got up behind me. I swung fast to catch up, but-in tight quarters-stopped short and flubbed the shot. After never finding the downed bird, I am certain this was the same bird that I had knocked down.
“On our way back to the car, we busted up some ruffies and I missed a tough crossing left to right and rising shot. Other than that, I had no other opportunities. It’s a good thing I don’t do this for a living or I would have gone hungry.
“As far as hunts go, however, it was an enjoyable day. I also caught a decent brownie with a Turks Turantula out of a nearby creek. So, if I had to live off the land, at least I wouldn’t have starved. ”
And there you have it folks. On this memorable day, I harvested plenty of grouse, just not of the feathered kind. I suppose these types of days are good for the bird hunter’s soul. They keep us humble and the challenge keeps us coming back for more. Bird or no bird, who can complain when we are afield with our bird dogs during the most beautiful time of year? Its time we all quit grousing around.