Warning! This blog contains more bird hunting adventures. If you are a big game hunter and think we are sissies for shooting little birds stop reading right now. You will not get pleasure out of me describing how challenging it is to find grouse in mountains of Western Wyoming. The state I call home is not exactly famous for bird hunting. It is hard to beat the scenery as you walk or hike to reach the Ruffed or Blue grouse habitat. There are parts of the state with good,not great,chukar and hungarian partridge populations. I can not say I have heard anybody talking about Wyoming pheasants but when it comes to grouse, it is an another story. Buy yourself an expensive comfortable hiking boots, affordable double gun from CZ-USA and you are ready to get some birds.
Every bird hunter dreams of the days when birds are plentiful and reaching the daily limit does not mean you loose few pounds walking several miles up and down steep slopes. I for one appreciate the effort it takes to get just an opportunity to take shot. I hiked and ran through these mountains each summer getting ready for upcoming hockey season during my career. I continued to hike after I retired from playing six years ago and now I do it with a shotgun in my hand during the bird season. Friends from other parts of the country,mostly low lands,have invited themselves for a grouse hunt with me in Wyoming but I politely turned them down. I said if they want to come visit,no problem. If they want to hunt grouse,sorry but you will not be able to keep up with me and I will not want to wait for you. I still do not have a bird dog so I need to cover lot of ground on my own.
I have gone out several times already this season and had moderate success shooting birds but great time hunting. We have two kinds of grouse in our area. Ruffed grouse,medium size bird that never ventures too far from a thick cover. They like to hang out near dirt roads or trails in the early morning or late afternoon hours to find some gravel for digestion. These places are not so difficult to get to but it’s very difficult to flush the grouse out. The other bird is what I still call Blue grouse but the experts use the term Dusky in northern Rockies. Same behavior as the ruffies but these birds bigger and are found in higher elevations. Like 8000 feet high and sometime higher depending on the food availability.
Couple examples of what grouse hunting is like.
I was walking along the forrest service road and decided to start working the cover between the road and creek. Road was about 100 feet above the creek so I was not only struggling to kick out grouse but also trying to stay standing as the embankment was very steep. The plan was to work the bottom part first and couple hours later turn around and work the part above the road on the way back.Same habitat,thick cover with aspen groves and spruce trees. The work paid off as I flushed out a nice bird but could not pull the trigger. My two feet were planted on two different downed trees and I did not have enough balance to even shoulder my gun. I enjoyed watching the bird fly into safety of tall spruce tree on the other side of the creek. As I continued working the bottom part i started noticing bear signs and big pile of fairly fresh bear scat. It was time to hike up and head back on the other side of the road. This time I did not walk through the cover,I was skimming the outside edges of the aspen groves. This strategy added significant distance to my hike back. I managed to flush out another bird. These birds do not fly until they absolutely feel they’re in danger and without a dog sometime it means you only few feet away. Too close to even shoulder the gun and pull the trigger. Closer to the bird you are less time you have to shoot. These are not excuse,these are experiences. I’m hunting not just killing. Every time I’m out I learn more about the species I am after. I’m sure glad my family does not depend on my hunting for source of meat.
The Blue(Dusky) grouse is different kind of work. It takes good hour of steep uphill just to get to the elevation where you can start seeing these larger grouse.The day I shot my most recent Dusky,they really made me work for it. I hiked up to the rocky trail hemmed in by beautiful meadows on both sides. This is the area where I have spotted both Ruffe and Blue(I like that name better because their color seems blueish/grey to me) grouse shortly before the season started. Actually 12 of them,six of each not so far apart. I was absolutely amazed at that time when couple birds went up,then another couple,then two singles,one after another. I remember that day very well. August 1st. Twelve grouse and two young mule deer bucks by 7:15 in the morning. If it was September 15th I could have had my limit of birds and bucks before you even think of breakfast. But of course that only happens in the offseason when you’re not carrying a gun.
This day I did not see a single bird in the usual spot. I got up little higher and dropped into a meadow full of great cover. I canvassed it back and forth slowly gaining elevation each time.No birds. I was not in quitting mood that day so I decided to try one more place. Couple miles and thousand feet of elevation away. The mule deer,I’ve also ran into moose there before,travels this ridge so much they beaten down a nice trail. I’ve seen many grouse here before. I had a feeling I will have an opportunity to pull the trigger there. I finally find myself on leveled ground so I have both hands on the gun without a need to balance myself. This looked like ideal grouse habitat. I see low shrubs surrounding a trail with plenty of gravel and very tall,thick spruce trees forty to fifty feet away. Suddenly I hear deeper sounding wing flutter to my left so my heart starts fluttering too,with joy. I see two Blues taking off for the nearest tree. No shot there but the third bird jumps up. I missed with the first shot and did not use the second shell for some reason. Everything’s happening so fast. I worked for three hours now,climbing these mountains not just up but down and up again. I felt like I should be getting some birds. Finally I did. The fourth bird takes off and I do take my time to get the lead needed,pull the trigger and follow through just like being on the course with Tom Mack. I really took my time,slowed everything down and got the result. My first Blue grouse ever.
It is amazing all the thoughts I had between the third and fourth bird when it could not be more than second or two. What a hunt. I am writing this blog on a plane back to Wyoming and just can not wait to put my boots on,grab my favorite designated grouse gun and head out.
The gun is CZ Upland Ultralight because hunting Wyoming grouse you need to go as light as possible. I have hunted Chukars, Huns and pheasants with it but bought another one and made couple adjustments. I increased the length of pull for better fit and spotting many grouse while hiking in the summer made me realize these will be very close shot so I use cylinder chokes in both barrels. I learned that the shot opens up less and less higher in altitude you shoot. The thin,clear mountain air creates less resistance to the pellets to spread the pattern. The opposite is Louisiana bayou with it’s sea level,humid,heavy air. Far more resistance there and tighter chokes are needed.
I do not want to discourage anyone from grouse hunting but hunting in “my neck of the woods” is really physically demanding. Maybe it will be less so once I get a good bird dog but in the meantime the work is up to me.