Author: Kane Larue
Where do you find grouse? Where do they go when it snows? Why aren’t there any here when two weeks ago we got several flushes in the exact same spot? How do I actually shoot one if I’m lucky enouh to get a flush? These are probably familiar questions if you’re new to grouse hunting.
About two years ago I made the decision to start grouse hunting. When I say grouse hunting, I mean working to get good at it. It wasn’t that I was starting from scratch, because I have hunted grouse sporadically over the years. But, most my experience was limited to taking the occasional walk with my father on a piece of land that he owned for deer hunting. The idea was that if a bird was unlucky enough to present itself perfectly to us, we would get a shot. Every now and then we’d get a flush, but it was rare.
Grouse hunting means trying to stack the odds in your favor and not relying on one or two lucky flushes. Talk to anyone who hunts grouse and they’ll offer up a few suggestions on how to find birds. Google « grouse hunting tips » and you’ll get a few more. I consider myself a beginner and I have been making a concerted effort towards improving my grouse finding and shooting skills. It’s an ongoing process that involves a lot of trial and error. Hopefully some of my experiences reasonate with yours. Here are a few that come to mind.
Hunting with a partner or in a group. More people equals more birds in the air – it’s pretty simple. Being able to go into cover strategically means better chances of a good shot. One person might spot a bird that you would have missed alone. You’ll probably head into different types of cover and stay prepared for the shot – you don’t want to let your buddy down if there is a flush. Even if it’s not you getting the flushes or shots, it helps keep motivating high if there’s action happening around you. Don’t forget that everyone has to be on the same page and agree on a plan, or else you may as well be out alone. It’s also easy to make mistakes like walking single file through cover or expect that the person next to you is ready for the shot. Long story made short, hunting in a group is the easiest way to get more flushes and kill more birds. You’re also more likely to get up at 4 am if you know that your buddy is picking you up… This definitely applies to my last point!
Hunting alone. Sometimes it’s just easier to get outside without having to coordinate the logistics of a group. While it might not lead to immediate success and I would normally prefer to be out with other people, I’ve found that solo hunts allow me to be more methodical and work on specific tactics. It might seem to contradict the benefits of having hunting partners, but I don’t feel rushed, nor do I have to convince anyone what cover to hunt. I can just go with my gut feeling. If I see a logging road or gully that looks interesting, I can check it out. Getting a flush on a feeling that the cover would hold grouse feels great!
Hunting with a dog. My dog Charlie is the main reason that I started grouse hunting. He showed me that there are more birds out there than I’d previously thought. A professional dog trainer would call him a flat out nuisance, and we won’t even mention what a breeder might think. That being said, he flushes birds that I wouldn’t get shots on if he wasn’t there. I’m sure that he bumps a fare share of birds also, but I find having him with me forces me to be « on » and be ready for a shot. More recently I’ve been on a few hunts with the official Bonasa umbellus bird dog, Skeetie. I’ve decided that a pointer is probably the biggest advantage you can give yourself in thick northeastern cover.
Hunting without a dog. Certain situations may warrant leaving your dog at home. I’ve been on a few hunts that could have been more productive without a dog. On one occasion, a few inches of fresh snow seemed to be the cause of numerous unproductive points by Skeetie. Too much wind and gusty days are similar. In adverse conditions it won’t hurt to change your tactics and cover ground methodically, instead of following a confused dog around. On a few other occasions, Charlie has been completely uncooperative. I found myself spending more time trying to reel him in and stay within range than I did hunting. Again, a professional trainer would leave him at home. But the days where he has been productive have led to some of my most enjoyable hunts. These days I start the day off with him, and he’s having a good day, great. If not, he gets benched.
Having a home base. Anyone who is good at something practices in a controlled environment. If you always go to new places it’s hard to identify patterns and dial in your approach. What kind of cover should you look for in the early season, late November, in snow or rain. If you can get access to a piece of land and hunt it often, you’ll start find out how to adapt to what the day presents you. Hopefully your home base is just that – close to home. Being able to head out after work or for a quick Saturday morning hunt will let you squeeze in more hours hunting, and start building a base of experience. It also means you’ll spend less time setting up, you won’t get lost, and you can try different strategies for the same location.
Exploring new terrain. Hunting is about adventure and spending time outside with your friends, just as much as it is about finding game. Going on a big trip or hunting public land is part of the fun: it steps up the level of adventure. While having a home base can help improve your skills, transferring those skills to a new location is the ultimate goal. Don’t forget to apply what you’ve been working on. I often find myself rushing when I’m somewhere new. Instead, slow down, try and get the most out the map and set up a game plan. It will pay off.
Just get out there. Like anything, the more you put in to something the more you get out. I feel like I’m starting to get a better eye for good cover, and have hunted in an increasing number of locations and under very different conditions. While some days have been much more productive than others, I always enjoy getting outside. Don’t forget that someone who has been grouse hunting for a long time will have their own strategy. It may or may not work with the kind of terrain you hunt or your personality. Try different tactics and see what suits you best.
Author: Kane Larue