I confess: I LOVE grouse hunting season here in Colorado. I look forward to it with a maniacal anticipation. The employees at the local sporting goods store probably know me by now as the lady who lingers around the regulation racks every day, desperate for some hint of when the season dates will be released. Somehow or another, these daily trips have made me the proud owner of a plastic egg container, a new plastic spork, and a weird cooling headband, which really doesn’t make any sense because I live in the third coldest spot in the nation!
After two solid months of this, the regulations are finally published. I pick up not one, not two, but THREE copies of these babies. I need them. I really do. You never know when you need to double check bag limits or season dates…just saying. I will actually miss a day of work on opening day of the season because I just love to pursue these birds so much!
Why is grouse hunting so exciting?
1. They are delicious
It’s just true! When I dust up some grouse, I’m simultaneously imagining which recipe I should use.
2. It’s the best time of year
Fall is the prettiest season, so being out and about looking for birds with my dog is the perfect recipe for a perfect day.
3. They are fun!
When the birds dust up, it is typically unexpected, so leveling off the shots is fun.
4. You get second chances
I have to be honest, here. If you’ve ever gone grouse hunting, you’ll realize they aren’t the most intelligent birds. If you miss one, it’s not going far. Often, it will give you a second opportunity.
5. Time to reflect
While my husband is my number one hunting buddy, I absolutely love the solitude of bird hunting in the high country. I typically leave my shot gun and any gear all ready in my truck so I can essentially pound some ground whenever the urge hits–I understand this may be the first indication that I need a 12 step program here.
The tactics are fairly simple in the high country:
You can hunt all day long, should you be so inclined, but I have found the birds to be more visible and plentiful around 8-9 in the morning and then again right before dusk. This makes for a perfect opportunity for a quick run before work or a nice evening out after an early dinner.
They tend to head to open trails and roads during these times of day so they can consume bits of gravel to help break down food in their crops. In terms of terrain, I look for sprucey/piney (actual words in my dictionary) areas located along ridge tops. The birds also tend to be found in some clear cut areas. I typically keep my dog at heel to keep from busting them out too far and keep my jaunts to no more than two hours at a time. Voila! Therein lies a sure shot recipe for grouse hunting.
Gear for grouse hunting?
The best part about grouse hunting is that there’s really not too much required as far a gear goes. I have to admit that my motivation wanes a bit any time I have to take more than one trip to the truck. Thus, I tend to keep my gear compact and ready so I have less likelihood of talking myself out of going. Here’s my list:
I prefer packs made specifically for women with narrow straps and waist straps that actually fit a woman’s waist. They provide much better support throughout your entire hunt. Key point there. I keep my pack ready no matter what season hits. My licenses, knives, optics, and other various sundries are always ready. I just have to grab and go. Also- I can drop my birds in the pack easily with little mess.
I typically use a low brass, target load. While this may have less hard-hitting knockdown, the meat suffers far less damage. Typically, these shots are performed from a closer distance so the heavier shot is not as necessary.
I prefer a 12 gauge for grouse hunting. I have used my waterfowl shotgun as well as a trusty over-under in the past. Both work great. While I find that shotgun preference is extremely personal for a variety of reasons, I really prefer as 12 gauge as I want a shotgun that can be utilized for almost any hunt. I like knowing I can grab my turkey gun, my waterfowl gun or my over/under and have essentially the same power no matter what hunt I plan to do. Additionally, I shot a 20 gauge for years and loved it, but when I switched to a 12 gauge, I found MY performance improved.
My trusty hunting dog. Failure to take Thaddeus on a hunting expedition will result in days of pouting and sidelong glances that will ruin my soul. Best to avoid this.
I am a huge proponent of using as much of a bird as possible. In the past, I would simply breast the bird which is just fine. I just started to feel a bit guilty about not utilizing more. To the point that my husband just shakes his head and says nothing. I believe this saves our marriage. He believes this saves his life. Maybe we are both right. Over the years, I have found that many women share the same beliefs I do. Waste not, want not. And, on a serious side, when I have taken the life of an animal I feel I owe it to the animal to use as much as I possibly can. Here is a down and dirty of how I utilize my birds once I get them home:
Of course. Once this is done I vacuum seal them and freeze them.
Skin the bird, remove the wings, tail, and feet
I will utilize the back portion of the carcass and the legs to create soup stock. (My son-in-law calls it grouse water) Just pressure cook 2-3 birds with seasonings of choice and some chicken broth for about 45 minutes. Once it cools I hand pick the carcasses. This is important because small bones and tendons can find their way into your stock if you just pick with a fork. Believe me, this makes for awkward dinner parties. I freeze the stock and use it to make any sort of soup imaginable from Posole to Grouse Noodle Soup to Turkey and Dumplings.
I pull a variety of feathers from almost every bird
I use the larger, prettier feathers for any variety of decoration. You can Pinterest yourself into a frenzy with a good stock of feathers. I keep the feathers in labeled Ziploc bags and interestingly use them often. I take the very small feathers and use them in jewelry and epoxy cast necklaces.
I cut the heads off
I realize this sounds like something from an Ozzy concert, but rest assured it is all sane. I pressure cook the heads, pick the skulls and soak them in hydrogen peroxide. The result is beautiful bird skulls. I use some in craft and decorating ideas. I will also give the skulls to crafty friends of mine who like to do hand scroll work on skulls.
I treat my dog
I will take small bits of the remaining carcass and dehydrate them for Thaddeus. This ensures his undying love for me.
For the future
I have not spent the time working with organ meat from the birds. It is my goal this season to procure these tasty morsels and hide them cleverly in some recipe so my husband remains unsuspecting.
And there you have it. Confessions of a manic grouse hunter! Now, if you will excuse me there is just over a month left of season here in Colorado. I’m off!
Kirstie Pike is the founder and CEO of Prois Hunting & Field Apparel for Women. (She also cleans the toilets there.) While hunting is the great passion of her life, building the sisterhood of women hunters and shooters that surround Prois has been one of her greatest accomplishments to date. Prois has been the leading edge for women’s performance hunting gear for nine years and running. Take pride in NOT being one of the guys.