grouse often provide the western upland bird hunter with the first
hunting opportunity of the new season with dates opening as early
as the first of September in New Mexico and Colorado, as well as
many other states.
This is a special time of year to be in the high mountains of the
West as fall is just beginning, the days are cool and the nights
are crisp. A blue grouse hunt can often be combined with other bird
hunting opportunities and excellent trout fishing.
have identified two species of the blue grouse; the sooty and the
dusky, with multiple subspecies of each. For the purposes of this
article we will deal with the dusky blue grouse, which is found
in the four corners states plus Nevada and southcentral Wyoming.
sooty blue grouse occurs in the rest of the eleven western states,
western Canada and southeastern Alaska. Colorado and Utah are the
states with the most abundant habitat for the dusky blue grouse.
The higher elevations of northern New Mexico, at times, have surprisingly
good numbers of birds. The mountain ranges in the southern and southwestern
part of this state also have viable populations. Arizona has rather
limited appropriate habitat, but the north Kaibab Plateau and the
White Mountain region have huntable populations. Nevada's best blue
grouse opportunities apparently occur in the higher elevations of
the northeastern portion of the state. The seasons are relatively
long in all these states.
Blue grouse are birds of the high mountain country, typically vegetated
with aspen, fir and spruce. Locating blue grouse below 8500 foot
elevation is uncommon. On several occasions I have encountered them
at or even above timberline. Some key considerations for finding
birds are of course, appropriate habitat and food.
grouse do not typically range too distant from dense stands of cover
provided by the previously mentioned conifers and aspens. Abandoned
logging roads and the adjacent terrain are frequented by these birds,
as are meadow clearings within the dense conifer cover. Hunting
the base and tops of knolls and ridges often produces birds. Pursuing
these birds in the dense cover can be very frustrating as the birds
are frequently flushed without providing the opportunity for a shot.
The pursuit of "blues" is cetainly no "walk in the park". It seems
to me that I spend more time hoofing it uphill as opposed to semi-level
or downhill slopes. One consolation, however, is that flushed birds
generally fly downhill. The blue grouse brood group, hen and her
poults, are usually feeding from sunup until midmorning, then again
in the late afternoon. Hunting can be very productive following
rain showers. Apparently these blrds secure the moisture they need
from dew, rain and their food sources.
grouse utilize a wide variety of food sources. Currants, elderberries,
raspberries, vetch, strawberries, aspen leaves, dandelions, clover
blooms and buds plus numerous other plant sources. Early in the
season the hen and her brood will feed heavily on insects, in my
experience, principally grasshoppers but also ants and beatles.
As Fall progresses, the birds will become dependent on available
plant sources and ultimately, as Fall wanes, the birds will feed
almost exclusively on the needles and buds of Douglas fir and other
conifers. This is their feeding practice until the next Spring.
male blue grouse is a solitary soul, as he leaves the rearing of
the chicks exclusively to the hen. Typically the male does not venture
far from heavy cover, whereas the hen and her brood venture into
the more open areas as previously mentioned. The male bird is relatively
large with a mature bird frequently weighing in excess of three
pounds. A mature hen will weigh two pounds or slightly less. The
juvenile birds will average between 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 pounds. A mature
cock bird in the early Fall will appear basically slate gray on
the chest area and blue gray in the flanks. The tail is relatively
long and squared with a light gray band at the end of the tail,
this is consistent in both sexes. White feathering interspersed
with gray flecking is present on the legs, underbelly and beneath
the tail and has small white feathers around the base of the neck
and under the chin. The back of this bird is a random mixture of
shades of brown and gray. The wings are basically gray. The comb
over the eyes are yellowish orange.
early Fall adult female is a beautifully mottled combination of
brown hues and gray. The head is barred at the top and on the nape
of the neck. The wings of the adult female are more brownish as
opposed to the gray of the adult male.
of the year generally resemble the adult female, however these youngsters
have buff colored breasts, no gray coloration on the belly and lack
the gray bar at the end of the tail.
that you know what blue grouse look like, where to find them and
what they eat, let's talk about loads, guns and dogs. Blue grouse
are not particularly hardy, so I generally shoot medium loads of
7 or 7 1/2 Iead, most flushes will occur within twenty five yards
or closer, sometimes much closer,which, in my opinion strongly suggests
using an open choke gun; gauge of your choice. Dogs, both pointing
and flushing varieties, only add to the pleasure of hunting this
bird. Scenting conditions are usually good and the cover often what
bird hunters dream about. Blue grouse are often the first upland
birds hunted by our young dogs, with exceptionally good results.
Don't be surprised if, upon flushing a brood group some of the birds
land in nearby trees; causing them to flush again can be a test
of wills. Good retrieving skills are critical given the nature of
the terrain and potentially dense cover.
assume you have been successful in your pursuits and have some birds
in the bag. You are in for a culinary treat! Picking birds can be
a tedious task, but in this instance most definitely worth the effort.
Roast grouse stuffed with sweet apples and celery is certainly a
our grouse camp we pick the birds, butterfly them and cook over
hardwood coals or charcoal briquets, adding alder chips for additional
flavor. Baste the birds frequently with either a butter and lemon
mixture or a commercially available white wine worchestershire sauce.
If you know your mushrooms you may well be able to collect and cook
these as a most desirable side dish; sautee these editable fungi
in butter with a touch of garlic. Likewise, raspberries which you
gathered during or after your hunt provide a unique and tasty dessert.
What a great way to end a successful day in some of the West's most
scenic country. Have fun.