I have been thinking about next season and getting my kids out hunting with me. As far as building a kid’s interest in hunting, there is nothing better than blue grouse hunting. (The Blue Grouse was recently renamed dusky grouse by the American Ornithologist’s Union. I think they did so, because they were way behind the botanists in the name changing department and wanted to try to catch up.)
Blue grouse (dusky grouse) is a perfect game bird to introduce a youngster on and help build their passion for hunting and for the outdoors for the following reasons: First, they are fairly easy to shoot, second, they are relatively easy to find and generally it’s easy walking, third, they are found on public land, and fourth, they are tasty.
Blue grouse are way overlooked in the west, and as a consequence are often not very wily and can be shot on the ground or off a tree limb by a youngster still learning how to point a scatter gun. As a side note, when you put a dog on them, they act very differently and are much sportier. I will say that there is a reason they are nick named the fool’s hen. They can make a fool out of you. They seem so dumb walking in front of you, but when you try to close the gap just a bit, or try to clear a low tree limb for a good shot and they’ll disappear through some downfall, around a tree and flush safely from the back side, giving you no shot..
Blue grouse are relatively easy to find. Once you have an understanding of what habitat type and density of overhead cover and downed logs/debris they prefer, you can get pretty efficient at locating birds. Once you find birds, mark the spot on your map, it’s the habitat they are keying in on and there will likely be birds year after year. Also, in most of the mountain ranges in the west, there are roads that take you near the top of the mountain, which is where you’ll find the birds in October and November. Once you are in grouse habitat, you can usually stay on a contour and the walking isn’t too strenuous. This is all relative of course, but compared to chukar hunting, it’s a walk in the park.
Third, grouse can be found on public land, so you don’t have to worry about finding land owners and securing permission. These lands, our National Forests and some high elevation BLM lands are some of the most beautiful places in the world. We are lucky here in Utah to have something like 80+% of the state in public ownership. (Truth be told, I wouldn’t trade that for all the pheasants in Nebraska.)
Finally, blue grouse are tasty. This is particularly true if you can get them before they switch over to their winter diet of pine needles. This switch usually occurs in mid to late November, or when the frost kills the forbs and insects and the snow begins to fly. Our favorite way to prepare it is to cube it up and marinate it in a fajita mix and fry it up with onions and peppers and wrap it in a tortilla with sour cream, cheese and salsa. Wow, it’s yummy!
Last year we had a fun experience. We were headed out on a family hike on the forest near our house in Sevier County. Since it was grouse season and we were headed to a really grousey area, I threw in the 16 and a couple of bird dogs just to keep us safe from attacking duskies. (At least that’s what I told my wife.) As we were bumping along the 2-track road, my daughter (7 yrs) said, “Hey Dad, there’s some quail.” I thought, “Quail?” Then I realized she probably meant grouse. I never saw them, but sitting in the back seat, she picked them up like a good bird dog.
Needless to say, it was fun getting a nice point (a gimme really), and shooting a brace of birds all with my family right there. Now Sarah can’t wait until next season to go grouse hunting with Dad.
A special thanks to David Anderson for the awesome family grouse hunting photos. Thanks David!