We are living in a golden age of the grouse woods. I no longer see the ruffed grouse of the past, but a culture of today – young and old, dedicated and committed to their calling and never so focused on saving the species.
I grew up in a long line of casual “partridge” hunters that never really considered the use of a dog. Grouse hunting was something you did when you scouted for whitetails. Swap the slug barrel off the old Remington 870 pump for a bird barrel, and those New Hampshire “chickens” were prime dinner. The older I became, the less ruffed grouse existed on the southern border of New Hampshire, and as my years went on as a suburban bowhunter, the ruffed grouse became a distant memory.
It would not be until I started achieving some of my personal goals in white-tailed deer hunting that I would reconsider connecting with this childhood memory. As the frustrations of suburban hunting became more apparent year after year, I decided to seek out a different escape. Now deer hunting the north country of New England tends to be a lot of hard work with little reward. The inability to commit in my daily life to really scout and understand a local deer populace, made the idea unappealing to me.
Ruffed grouse were different, though; I could escape my city life and for a couple days be truly hardcore at what I was doing. A few good grouse covers, a cabin to stay in, and I was living the adventurous dreams of my youth. I found myself escaping to these grouse covers more often, becoming more interested at how to get better at hunting them. I realized how amazing of a pursuit the upland birds of New England were. They were unique, challenging, and it was never short of an adventure finding them.
Throughout all of this though, I could never shake that question of declining species from my mind. I found myself asking questions like why are the grouse gone from my home town? It spiraled from there. A pursuit of knowledge that lead me deeper into the grouse woods and eventually to my camera. Although I was active in the bowhunting community, I decided it was time to make a ruffed grouse hunting film, to capture what I thought was a past gone by and share it with the suburban hunters I have connected with over the years.
It stuck with many of suburban hunters, and as it turned out, we all recalled hunting grouse in our youth and their departure from our landscape. We debated why it happened: was it predator, a disease, or possibly spraying of pesticides? Really none of us understood, never mind considered the complexity of their habitat.
This all lead me to the Ruffed Grouse Society. As I clicked my camera on and began to capture other people’s grouse woods adventures, they only became more mystical, more deserving of the title the king of the birds. I saw every person connect on deeply personal levels, each one differently, yet all with this base line of the grouse woods. This is what made Project Upland special, a complex culture that existed under my nose yet many of us never knew existed.
I began to understand positive aspects of the future of the ruffed grouse as I spent many of long hours with biologists and seasoned woodsmen. It became apparent to me that this was an important fight and above all of that it is a fight we can win right now with positive shifts in logging and forestry practices and commitments to good science.
Project Upland has continued to grow as a result of all these things, and although many may be shocked to hear me say it, “We are living in a golden age of the grouse woods.” We are a culture no short of the hardcore, the interesting, the adventurous or the knowledgeable. I no longer see the ruffed grouse of the past, but a culture of today – young and old, dedicated and committed to their calling and never so focused on saving species.
Now in my mid-thirties, I find myself breaking the big buck hunters golden rule of allowing a dog in my home to cover my clothes in scent, but now I’m excited to take my adventures to the next level. Above all, I have never been so inspired and so eager to capture grouse woods culture, and completely humbled to be welcomed into such an amazing community.
A.J. DeRosa is founder/creative director of Dangerous Cow Publishing. He is considered a pioneer in the modern era of hunting; from his critically acclaimed book The Urban Deer Complex to his viral bird hunting film series Project Upland. He continues to push the boundaries in both cinematic adventure films, and groundbreaking hunting tactics. With strong focus on bringing niche market regions and unique cultures to the mass market to preserve our sporting heritage. www.projectupland.com