What comes to mind when you see that phrase? Maybe a brisk fall morning, a layer of frost covering the dried grass and shrubs that dot the prairie, and an excited hunting dog flushing a small covey of pheasants. Or maybe picking your way through a rocky, cactus covered desert landscape hunting for those quick and shifty little quail. How about climbing up the side of a mountain, scouring the edges of hidden meadows and aspen stands just hoping to scare up a couple grouse?
That last one might not be the first thing that comes to mind, if at all, but grouse hunting is solidly planted in the “upland hunting” realm.
North America is home to 15 or 20 different grouse species. In Colorado we have about 6 of those with the most targeted being the dusky grouse. Whenever someone asks me what a dusky grouse looks like, I say something along the lines of, “Sort of like a small forest chicken”. Although, that depiction might not be entirely accurate for their appearance, it’s definitely a good description of what they taste like. Slightly, very slightly, gamey chicken; delicious.
September 1st marks the “bird opener” in Colorado, and every fall we try to get out to hunt grouse at least once. For the past couple years our first outing has been pushed back by Labor Day weddings, this year was no different. We, we being myself and my good buddy Steve, were finally able to get a morning freed up to go look for grouse. We loaded up our day packs and grabbed our guns, a Benelli Montefeltro 20ga for me and a Savage Mark II .22lr for Steve (more on the .22 in a second) and headed up to an area where I have stumbled on grouse in the past while mushroom hunting. I made sure to clip my Fiddleback Fish and Fowl (F2) to my pack because if we were successful on our hunt this would give me my first opportunity to put the F2 to use on something it was named for, fish and fowl!
Now, before I get into the events of the day, let me explain a little more about hunting dusky grouse and touch on the 20ga/.22lr combo choice. Grouse aren’t the quickest or the smartest birds, but they blend in dang well, so they use that to their advantage. Without a dog to sniff them out you’ve got two options when it comes to finding duskies. Option one is spot them from a ways off, as seen in the picture here of Steve glassing up grouse country with his binoculars. Option two is to get close enough to where they are hiding to make them flush.
Both options require you to actually be in “grouse territory” if you’re going to have any success, so solving that issue is the first challenge. Dusky grouse seem to prefer “transitional zones”; meadows surrounded by mature conifers, old logging areas with young spruce, fir, and aspen with mature conifers nearby, ridged out sage flats with aspen and confer below, so on and so forth. Once you find a likely area it just becomes a matter of wandering around until you either spot them or flush them, which is exactly what our game plan was for the day…
I was familiar with the area from the previous mushroom hunting trips, but I still studied a map for a little while to pick out some likely grouse spots. Two old logging areas between 10,000 and 11,000 feet in elevation caught my eye and I decided that we would start our day at those. We arrived around 8:00AM, loaded up our guns, and tossed on our packs. There was a slight frost on the ground and the thermometer on my car read 39 degrees, chilly, but the hiking quickly warmed us up. We spent a couple hours working our way up through the new growth conifers just hoping to come across a covey of grouse. Unfortunately, the only thing of any note that we came across was a pine tree that had been blown apart by lightning, we found pieces of wood 50 yards from the stump. The power of nature can be humbling sometimes…
In my limited grouse hunting experience I’ve noticed that grouse can sometimes prefer aspens, so we decided to hike up to a patch of aspens just above a meadow before we headed to the next logging area.
We were actually able to drive down an old logging road and park right below this small grove of golden aspens. The grouse once again were proving to be smarter than us, we didn’t see a thing. At least there were some photo opportunities and one heck of a view!
At this point we were both feeling a little discouraged, but we had one more area to check and I had a good feeling about it. You see, we had driven past this spot on the way in, the plan was to start at the top and work our way down, so I had already caught a glimpse of it and liked what I saw. New growth spruce and fir, mixed with some stunted aspens, close access to mature trees to hide in if they needed to, and plenty of different berry producing plants, the preferred food of grouse.
This small cutting resembled an upside-down tear-drop, with the “pointy end” towards the road. The plan was to start at the bottom and work our way counter-clockwise around the perimeter, once we reached the top we planned on weaving our way down through the trees, hopefully jumping any grouse hanging out under the foliage munching on berries. As it turns out, this was a good plan! About a quarter of the way down “the tear” I noticed a small patch of fir trees with a bunch of currant bushes around their trunks. The hairs prickled up on my neck and I immediately had the feeling that this is where the grouse would be hanging out; it’s a strange experience when your instinctual intuition figures things out before you do.
As I came around the bottom side of the trees three grouse exploded out from below them. When I use the word “exploded” I’m not exaggerating, grouse will typically only flush once you’re right on top of them and they do so very loudly! Steve, who was still above me on the other side of the trees said that he thought it was a helicopter flying overhead until my shotgun rang out.
Though I was shocked by their loud exit and pumped up with adrenaline, I was still able to compose myself enough to take down the first grouse with my 20 gauge.
Seeing feathers fly and the grouse fall completely ruined my composure for the following shot and the second and third grouse flew off untouched only to land about 75 yards away somewhere on the edge of the mature stand of trees that were encircling us. This is where Steve and the .22lr come in handy!
As I mentioned earlier, grouse really use their natural camouflage as their defense. Those other two grouse took us a good 5 minutes to spot. I finally noticed one of them sitting on a log, head up and alert, and told Steve where to look. He took aim and fired only to have the grouse fly up into a nearby tree! We thought he had missed, however, it turns out that the second grouse was actually sitting in front of the log the entire time. When Steve shot the top one, the second immediately took flight and made us think he had missed. He fired again and the second grouse fell.
A three grouse day is not something that occurs all the time, especially for those of us without dogs, so we were quite proud of our achievement.
The grouse were gutted in the field, mine with my CPM154 Fiddleback F2, and once home were used in a delicious Coq au Vin that we served over egg noodles.
The F2 is a wonderful knife, it’s thin, laser sharp, beautiful, and comfortable. I imagine it would also do very well as a caping and skinning knife for big game, and would have zero issues with various furry small game tasks as well.
What I’m getting at here is if you’re looking for a great do-it-all game knife, take a serious look at the Fiddleback Forge F2.
Contributed by Orion Aon, freelance blogger for Fiddleback Outpost & avid fan of Fiddleback Forge knives. Check out Orion's YouTube Channel 'Backcountry Bounty' for more great stuff!
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