WHY WE HUNT: Member Christian Fichtel, North Carolina

“To those devoid of imagination, a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.” ~ Aldo Leopold

Christian Fitchel photo (2) (940x1280)I’ve always believed that hunting should be difficult. The act of killing, whether avian or ungulate, carries with it a weight of responsibility that should not be forgotten too quickly. In the Southern Appalachians, the mountains in which I wander, the hunting of the ruffed grouse is, at the very best of times, an exercise in patience and effort.

Each year, my home state of North Carolina collects data from participating hunters and publishes the North Carolina Avid Grouse Hunter Survey. After a peak around 1990, the likelihood of success in our southern mountains has declined in a dramatic way. The odds weren’t good 25 years ago, and even a masochist like myself would have found past numbers sufficiently challenging.

Likely as a result of worsening conditions, the average age of hunters has increased, indicating that fewer young folks are entering the sport. The average hunter in the 2015-2016 season flushed just over 2.5 birds per trip and harvested just over 0.3 of them. Compare this to roughly 6.2 and 0.9 in the 1989-1990 season, respectively, and the decline becomes clear. We sometimes joke that hunting grouse in North Carolina is often little more than an armed hike with dogs.

I was not fortunate enough to know these ‘good old days’ of grouse; having just reached thirty years of age, I have known nothing but the consistently poor conditions we now face. I have, of course, rather conflicted feelings. I know that the hunt is not about the birds, exactly, but about the dogs, the friends, the miles and about the woods themselves. On the other hand, I recognize the obligation that I have to ensure that those who come after still have wild places to wander in search of grouse and other game. And so, we fight for public lands and forest management with the knowledge that while we long to see the results in our own hunting lives, the fight is on behalf of those yet to know the ecstasy of a good dog, an old shotgun, and a thunderous flush from a laurel thicket.

In the early days of state regulation of hunting, Theodore Roosevelt addressed the question of conservation from a perspective not common in his time and not common enough in ours. In discussing the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and the belief that the game belongs to the people, he stated, “so it does; and not merely to the people now alive, but to the unborn people. The ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ applies to the number within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction.”

The reasons why I hunt, then, are numerous. I hunt because I enjoy it, even those days when things don’t go my way. On a deeper level, however, I hunt because I recognize that the right to do so is mine by having been born in a nation that once recognized the value of wild places. I hunt in defiance of those who work to dismantle those rights and strip future generations of the privilege of experiencing this difficulty and required self-reliance. I hunt for those in Roosevelt’s womb of time, that they too may one day know the stillness of an Appalachian sunrise, the joy of trusting the judgement of a bird dog more than that of oneself, and the immense sense of gratitude that accompanies a grouse in hand.

To join or for more information about the Ruffed Grouse Society, go to www.ruffed.org.

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Okay, so it’s public . . . Now what?

By Brent A. Rudolph, Ph.D., RGS & AWS Director of Conservation Policy

RGS and AWS are among the most passionate organizations defending the overall benefits of public lands, but we are one of the few voices working to raise awareness and prompt action regarding the poor conservation performance on federal properties with respect to providing young forest habitat.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine

Approximately 1,459,940 comments were received in response to the “Review of Certain National Monuments Established Since 1996” (regulations.gov). You may know this better as “The Bears Ears Brouhaha,” though there’s a chance that only I call it that.

The referenced review is being conducted by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in response to an Executive Order issued by President Donald Trump in April. The review will assess designations of 27 national monuments established since 1996. Other than Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument (Katahdin Woods) in Maine (see picture above), all monuments to be reviewed are located in western states or are marine national monuments.

The review of the Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah stimulated much of the passionate public response on this topic. Monuments may be designated under authorities granted to the President of the United States since passage of the Antiquities Act of 1906. As is usually the case with national monuments, the lands incorporated into Bears Ears were already in federal ownership, managed under the Bureau of Land Management and United States Forest Service. The proclamation that established Bears Ears referenced the primary resource management motivation that prompted passage of the Antiquities Act in the first place – a need to provide additional protections for lands or features of cultural or historical significance. As is also commonly the case, at least for recently established monuments, Bears Ears was designated by President Barack Obama during his waning days in office on December 28, 2016.

The United States Constitution states that “Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States,” but the Antiquities Act delegated to the president some of this power by giving them authority to designate national monuments. For years there was recognition that artifacts from cultural sites of several local Native American tribes near Bears Ears were being stolen. Tribal activists worked with the Utah congressional delegation on proposals for added protections for these lands, but action never made it through Congress. The infinitely easier process through which a president can designate a monument overcame the stalled deliberations, and represents the primary practical motivation Congress gave this authority to the president, in recognition that some cases would require a quick, sure response to act in time to protect irreplaceable resources under imminent threat. But that doesn’t mean that Congress – and certain groups of their constituents, along with state and local government officials, industry representatives, and presidential successors – can’t still get angry about it when presidents exercise these powers that they’ve been given.

Some of the furor over Bears Ears revolves around the role the Native American tribes should play in the future of these lands (with different ideas ranging from advising to co-managing to being entirely excluded), as well as more broadly around the troubled history of United States relations with Native American nations. I don’t label this conflict a brouhaha to downplay the gravity of these issues. Other concerns relate to the controversy regarding the values of conservation on public lands compared to development through private ownership, and I don’t wish to diminish the importance of having a reasoned public dialogue regarding that topic. Amidst this wave of passion that has hopefully elevated public attention on considering the value of our public lands, an opportunity is being swept away to acknowledge their importance to conservation, their benefits for sustaining our national sporting heritage, yet the need to do more to ensure their full potential is truly realized.

A quick 2,700 mile drive to the northeast, Katahdin Woods stands as a true monument to this need to do more. In most cases, monument boundaries are designated around lands that have long been controlled by the federal government. However, the Antiquities Act also states that designations may essentially be applied to lands at the time they are “relinquished to the Federal Government.” The private donors of these lands in Maine were initially interested in establishing a National Park. Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS) and American Woodcock Society (AWS) staff met with and advised local land managers and consultants that worked on the transition of these lands through what was ultimately the monument designation. We conveyed the need for, potential approaches to, and benefits of even-age forest management to sustain abundant game and non-game wildlife, provide high quality hunting, and contribute to the local timber and outdoor recreation economies. When these lands were gifted and shortly thereafter designated by President Barack Obama on August 24, 2016, the proclamation did commit to maintaining public hunting access on more than half of the approximately 87,500 total acres within the monument. Among the 1,459,940 comments submitted on the overall national monument review, RGS/AWS input conveyed our thanks and support for this commitment to sustain hunting access to these portions of Katahdin Woods, but noted “protecting hunting access to these areas and to public lands in general will prove a hollow gesture without ensuring they provide high quality habitat.” The serious oversight was in making no provision to engage in forest management at Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

Even where federal lands are clearly open for and even encouraged to engage in active forest treatments, far too many obstacles are preventing appropriate, scientifically sound habitat management from occurring. While 53 percent of the bird species that breed in shrub-dominated or young forest habitats have declined within the eastern United States and Canada since 1980, the public dialogue is all too often getting bogged down in arguments over whether land should remain public or not. Amidst all of these arguments, shouting over the case of national monuments is particularly distracting. These lands already were in or destined for federal ownership. Modifying boundaries or conditions of designations, or even eliminating designations entirely (which at least some legal experts contend is not within the president’s scope of authority) would not change their ownership status. RGS and AWS are among the most passionate organizations defending the overall benefits of public lands, but we are one of the few voices working to raise awareness and prompt action regarding the poor conservation performance on federal properties with respect to providing young forest habitat.

Secretary Zinke could work with the Administration through this review to modify the designation, or else provide explicit direction that the management plan that will be required for Katahdin Woods will include objectives to apply even-age forest management to sustain habitat. Our comments also conveyed interest in being considered a potential source of support for habitat management in collaboration with local managers and neighboring property owners, or of assistance to the Secretary and the Department to communicate to the public the important responsibility our resource managers have to provide active stewardship of these public trust resources. As our members and supporters, I hope you’ll add your voices to ours in calling for reasoned dialogue and real action to address this conservation shortfall.

Contact: Brent A. Rudolph, Ph.D., RGS/AWS Director of Conservation Policy, (517) 980-4570, BrentR@RuffedGrouseSociety.Org

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A focus on simple gateways to grouse hunting can recruit our next generation of hunters.

By Matt Soberg, RGS/AWS Editor & Director of Communications

DSC_0127We always hear about perceived barriers to entry purportedly inherent in grouse and woodcock hunting. “There are no birds around, and it’s hard to find them. The cover is so thick, too hard and strenuous. When you do find birds, the shots are impossible. Guns are intimidating, and I don’t know how to train a bird dog.” Blah, blah, blah.

Grouse hunting is not that scary. Trust me.

We have to flip this negative attitude on its face and take a different approach. Let’s focus on the positives, the advantages and the little things I wrote about in the past spring issue of this magazine that make grouse and woodcock hunting the grand sport we know it is. There is just too much good in what we do that is truly inherent – things like the challenges of the find, cover and shot, our relationship with our bird dogs, the skill of shooting, the history of the hunt, the literature and art, and of course the legacy we leave for the next generation. That last entry is the key, if recruitment, retention and reactivation (R3) is important to you as a grouse and woodcock hunter and to RGS and AWS as organizations, positive promotion is essential.

As you know, R3 is important to us and can easily be seen by the New Hunter Mentor Program, Women’s Intro to Wingshooting Program and the upcoming RGS Leadership Academy. RGS and AWS Director of Member Relations and Outreach Mark Fouts has been aggressively attending recruitment conferences and reviewing other programs to learn best techniques and to enhance our programs to take them to the next level.

Recently, Mark reported to staff that it is widely apparent in the R3 community that no program exists to promote grouse and woodcock hunting. Can this be? There are programs for turkeys, deer and pheasants, obviously, but not one for grouse and woodcock hunting. Not one.

Again, if the future of our traditions are important to you, you should be proud that RGS and AWS are taking this proactive initiative to be THE LEADING program in the United States to promote what we love to the next generation.

It is not hard to see why these other species are the targets of R3 programs – easy access, stationary targets, and one-and-done experiences. We get back to the perceived barriers to entry and difficulty of grouse and woodcock hunting, but that approach of excluding grouse and woodcock is so narrow-minded and short-sighted, to me. There is just so much more to what we do that is attractive to new hunters.

What about the easily identifiable gateways to upland hunting – maybe dogs, gear, artistry, books, the great taste of birds or the feat of embracing perceived difficulties as a challenge to overcome?

Dogs are certainly a gateway to youth and new hunters upon which we should take advantage to recruit new hunters. Our relationships with our dogs is a pinnacle, and who doesn’t love a bird dog puppy?

DSC_0130Upland art and writing are also gateways to our sport, and this is readily apparent through quick view of social media channels these days. The art is attractive, exciting, fun and a challenge in itself. Artistry and writing are great practices to keep hungry hunters in the moment all year long, and it is attracting new hunters too. One example of the power of upland art as a gateway to loving our sport is Edith Chamberlain, the daughter of my hunting buddy Laurence, who was inspired by upland art on Instagram to start drawing images of grouse, woodcock and bird dogs on her own. At 12 years old, I think her work is extremely impressive, and I have no doubt she will continue to carry her interest with her father into the grouse and woodcock woods soon.

I also think just promoting the challenge of grouse hunting can be a gateway instead of a negative. “Don’t take the easy way out, hunt grouse.” The challenges of the cover, birds and shot make a bird in hand so much more fulfilling when it happens, and when it doesn’t, it is easy to honor the bird with respect for offering the challenge and succeeding.

The beauty of this banter is that the RGS and AWS R3 programs are doing just this – taking advantage of these gateways through educating new hunters on hunting history, finding habitat, identifying birds, bird dog basics and care, shooting safety and skills – all the things that tell the comprehensive story of grouse and woodcock  hunting and topics about which people really care and respect. The Ruffed Grouse Society magazine is a great resource for new hunters on grouse literature and art, classic grouse stories, habitat and hunting how-to articles, gear, guns, books, cooking and more.

Instead of the negative, what if we said, “I love the challenge of finding birds. I feel an accomplishment when a bird is flushed. I love the challenge of grouse cover.  I take pride in traversing cover that others decline. Give the bird respect for evading the hunter after a difficult miss. They earned it. And, one bird in hand is a feat upon which to be proud.”

That’s the experience I want to have, and if we use this approach and focus on gateways to grouse and woodcock hunting, I think other new hunters will feel the same way.

To join or for more information, go to www.ruffed.org.

DSC_0115Illustrations by RGS Junior Member Edith Chamberlain, 12 years old, Brainerd, Minnesota.

This editor note was first published in the Summer 2017 issue of the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine.

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WHY WE HUNT, Member Drew Phipps

” . . . it is disturbing to me that there are so few grouse left in the woods here. I often wonder if I will be the last person to walk some of the coverts I hunt. I wonder how many before me have had the same thought? I take hope in the fact that there are still a few folks with dogs fighting the laurel and would like to see more of those people in the future.”

Phipps 3


I was asked by a friend a few weeks ago if I enjoyed failure. This was shortly after I recounted the highlights of last year’s West Virginia grouse season. I laughed it off at the time, but it does make me wonder, after a season of several hundred miles of walking and no birds taken . . .  was it worth it? My answer now and I hope always is: absolutely. The reason I hunt grouse has nothing to do with birds in hand. I hunt grouse because I’m an adrenaline junkie. I have yet to find a sensation that can match the electric moment just before a flush. The moment when dog, man and bird are all awaiting the same release.

Along the way I have come to learn a great deal about the beauty of a young forest and the companionship of a dog. It was a stray setter rescued by myself that pulled me from the couch in my home in Western Virginia and back into the grouse woods. And things have not been normal around my house since that day.

Phipps 2

As much as it has been written and talked about, the feel of walking through a covert with a dog is indescribable. The smell of autumn leaves in your nose is one I hope everyone gets to experience, and I never have to forget. I am to grouse hunting what Walter Matthau was to baseball (Bad News Bears), and my three setters can be unruly at times, but we have made a lot of unusual memories.

I was introduced to grouse hunting as a teenager. My cousin owned the finest German shorthaired pointer I have had the privilege of hunting behind, and I knew from the moment the first bird left the ground that I was in trouble. I had found a sport with so many variables that it would take a lifetime to concur.

Phipps 1

Shooting the first grouse in front of my dog Penny was the culmination of two years of hard work by both parties, and I consider it to be one of my greatest achievements – not to mention what a rush it was. Lack of habitat, and therefore birds, has hindered the development of both dog and man.

We have, however learned a few things, such as puppies like yellowjacket nests, and the birds we hunt here in central Appalachia are most certainly not gentlemen, nor can a gentleman pursue them. On a more serious note, it is disturbing to me that there are so few grouse left in the woods here. I often wonder if I will be the last person to walk some of the coverts I hunt. I wonder how many before me have had the same thought? I take hope in the fact that there are still a few folks with dogs fighting the laurel and would like to see more of those people in the future.

To join or for more info, go to www.ruffed.org.





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WHY WE HUNT, Member Morgan Wolfe

IMG_0884 (1280x853)” . . . and part of the reason I hunt is because I love the bonds that this sport creates. The bond between a man or woman and a dog, the bond between fellow hunters, and the bond between the hunter and the hunted. Being able to share a hobby and passion with the ones I love means everything to me.” RGS Member Morgan Wolfe


I remember the first grouse flush I ever saw.  It was in a New Hampshire cover we call “Spilled Milk”.  The dairy farmer who owned the land passed away a long time ago, but before he did he left an old milk can down by the river.  It’s on its side as if it spilled the milk, and it’s near a tremendous amount of Japanese knotweed.  We find woodcock are in there, but further up where the feeder stream joins the river are some old apple trees.  We always work the cover counter-clockwise beginning with the knotweed and woodcock and closing out with the apples and grouse.

One late season we scratched a few woodcock in the knotweed.  But up by the apples, my setter Rowdy got birdy and stopped.  A grouse blasted from the base of the tree and my passion for that bird was lit.

But it wasn’t always that way.  As a native North Carolinian my outdoor passions began with horseback riding.  Freshwater and saltwater fishing followed, and ultimately I learned to shoot rifles and shotguns.  While I love to shoot pistols, I was most curious about bird hunting.  I think it’s partly because I saw how excited my step dad got for fall.  If you know him, Tom Keer, then you know he’s obsessed with bird hunting.  My friends call Tom “the guy in the woods with the whistle and all the dogs wearing cow bells”.


To me, he is my mentor, my hunting and fishing buddy, and part of the reason I hunt is because I love the bonds that this sport creates. The bond between a man or woman and a dog, the bond between fellow hunters, and the bond between the hunter and the hunted. Being able to share a hobby and passion with the ones I love means everything to me. Upland bird hunting is a hard sport and it takes hard work, patience and perseverance. But the moment all your hard work pays off, the reward becomes so much greater than the struggle.

I hunt grouse because I can do it all year long.  Maybe not the actual hunting part, that’s only for a few months, but the other aspects, too.  Training our four English setters is my favorite activity, and working through their commands, whistle training them, staunching them up with check cords and the like.  I take care of our gear which includes waxing chaps and boots, stitching vests, and cleaning guns. I love to shoot clays whether it’s at our local gravel pit using Tom’s Parker VH 20 side-by-side or my mom’s Beretta 28 gauge over/under.


Grouse hunting is learning experience, and every time I hunt I learn something new.  Sometimes I see Tom match a particular dog to a cover based on the way the dog hunts, while other times we study topo maps to find new coverts.  The hard work pays off when the dogs lock up on point and either a grouse rumbles out or for a woodcock whistles.  It’s cool to see bore holes along dirt roads and chalk in the woods and to find grouse in Hawthornes, briar tangles, near Goldenrod and other areas.

I’m a sophomore in college, so it’s a little difficult to get out in the woods.  Last year I only snuck in two days and it poured rain for both.  We went anyway, because that’s all the time I had.  When school gets busy and I don’t have time to hunt much, it impacts my mood and my personal well being.  It’s probably because I don’t get to spend as much time with some of my favorite people and dogs doing what I love to do most of all. So I look forward to making the most of this upcoming bird season and maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll shoot my first Carolina grouse this fall.

To join or for more information, go to www.ruffed.org



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WHY WE HUNT, Member Jim Gray

I might have arrived late to the grouse hunting scene, but I am determined to do everything I can to “pay it forward” and leave it in better shape than I found it.

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Why do I hunt? I really didn’t have any choice, and I have been eternally grateful. My dad was a quail hunter. He started taking me when I was four or five years old. When I got too tired, he carried me on his shoulders. We hunted the sand hill scrub and pine/palmetto woods of Florida. I got my first shotgun, a JC Higgins .410 single shot for Christmas when I was 10. About that time, quail hunting lands began getting scarce as the hills and pine woods of Central Florida were bulldozed for orange groves. So, we shifted to dove and duck hunting.

All this time, I kept an eagle eye on the mail box for Field & Stream, Outdoor Life and Sports Afield. Most of the upland bird hunting articles were about pheasants and ruffed grouse. I had no idea what it would be like to hunt those mystical birds, but I knew I wanted to.

After college, work, marriage, children, all took up so much time that hunting kind of got replaced by fishing. Plus, places to hunt in Florida had become more and more scarce.RGSCamp2016 (11 of 72) (1280x853)

After retirement, we lived in several locations in Florida and finally came to the conclusion that Florida had outgrown us. In 2009, my wife convinced me that we should move to the mountains of Western North Carolina. Reluctantly, I agreed to give it a try, but had no idea what was I going to do?

Here, I was in foreign territory, half-heartedly fishing for strange fish like trout and smallmouth bass. We began to see posters at local restaurants and shops about an upcoming Ruffed Grouse Society banquet. My wife kept urging me to buy a ticket and go. I kept saying, I don’t hunt anymore, and she kept replying “but you always enjoyed it”. So, we bought two tickets and had a blast at the banquet on an evening when it snowed like crazy. The day following the banquet I called one of the organizers and asked him if I could tag along on a grouse hunt. That led to being invited on several hunts, making some fabulous friends, buying an American Brittany pup, learning to hunt our North Carolina national forest mountains and the pup and I learning to hunt grouse – he had a head start, it was in his DNA already. We bagged our first bird when he was eight months old and he retrieved it to my feet. I was hooked.

Unexpectedly, falling in love with grouse hunting has also gotten me involved in participating in a Stakeholders Forum as the Ruffed Grouse Society representative to help rewrite the management plan for the Nantahala & Pisgah National Forests. This is the classic process of educating some of the Forest Service personnel and many of the “protectionist” Stakeholders about the importance of forest restoration and early successional habitat. We are making some headway, but there is a long road ahead of us. The good news is that the Forest Service is now including “wildlife” and “wildlife habitat” in their list of things that need to be restored. I might have arrived late to the grouse hunting scene, but I am determined to do everything I can to “pay it forward” and leave it in better shape than I found it.

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So, why do I hunt? Let me list many of the reasons: love of the outdoors, working closely with the dog as a team, the challenge of making a difficult wing shot, planning the hunt, working around the weather, hiking the mountains, finding new coverts, trying new game recipes, camaraderie with fellow hunters, scenery and after a hunt on a cold, snowy day relaxing by the wood stove with the dog sleeping at my feet and a wee bit of good scotch to warm up the old bones while I relive the hunt and post in my journal. For me – this is as good as it gets!

To join or for more information, go to www.ruffed.org

**Photos by Project Upland and Matt Soberg during the 2016 RGS Grouse Camp Tour

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The thought of losing the little things we love about grouse and woodcock hunting reveals truly what’s at stake for the future of our sporting traditions if we don’t strive to create healthy forests now.

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On a Friday evening this past February, I rounded into the entryway of my home and spied my blaze hunting vest hanging on the wall in the same place I had  it after every hunt since September. I stood there for a moment while numerous memories from October and November flooded through my mind and honestly felt sad knowing the season was over. That unfortunate and inevitable time had come to put it away until next year.

I grabbed the vest off the hanger and walked toward the kitchen garbage with my two bird dogs close behind. They, of course, anticipate the sight of hunting gear and shotguns in high hopes of what they dreamed. I saw this and regrettably said, “I’m sorry boys . . . not till next year.” I reached into the back pouch to clean debris and pulled out a handful of spent yellow shotgun shells, broken twigs and dried leaves. As I did, multiple feathers floated through the air as if in slow motion. After enjoying the show, I knelt down and picked up one red-phased tail feather that had helicoptered to the feet of my dogs as they patiently watched. That particular feather sent my mind directly to an October afternoon where the heft of a male grouse in-hand following a grand hunt deep in my favorite northwoods covert was a memory I will never forget.

Little things like this February feather make you want to spend the off-season lost in A Sand County Almanac next to a winter fire.


A long high-pitched whine from the cardboard box sitting in the passenger seat of my truck kept my mind focused on the literal and figurative road ahead of me. Inside, a new bird dog pup seemed to calm when I held my hand still on his white back. Being a young hunter and just out of college, this was the first bird dog I would own and train by myself.

About halfway home, thoughts of dog food choice, crate training tips, bird training and all the other dog-owner responsibilities were overwhelmingly starting to sink in. The perceived daunting task made me nervous for a moment, but the warm fur under my hand as the puppy slept calmed me too and reminded me about the future for this few pounds of pure potential.

Grouse hunters can spot possible covers just by driving by them, and on our way home, I teased the pup by saying, “Right there, young pup . . . that might be where you find your first bird.” As we arrived, I reached in the box, scooped the pup with one hand and carefully set in the front-yard grass. His new surroundings did not bother that bold little spitfire in the least, and he bound around the yard in constant search of something . . . “Surely a grouse,” I thought to myself. As I admired his confidence that afternoon, my mind wandered to glimpses of future sunny October days together afield hopefully filled with heroic points and proud retrieves.

Little things like a puppy’s first steps afield open up a world of upland possibilities that drive us as hunters to the grouse and woodcock woods every fall.


Not long after leaving the truck, my bird dog was dodging aspen and alder like on a slalom skiing course with what seemed to be extra energy that day. Lucky to be in the midst of the October woodcock flights, it was not long before the bell went silent not far away. I gave my lone hunting partner some steady commands as we found the pointing dog, and we both slowly and safely approached. I tried to position him for a productive view while I flushed the bird – almost as if meant to be, the bird flushed under foot. From one knee, I saw the most picturesque sight of dog, bird, hunter and shot.

In one fell swoop, my hunting partner reached down and raised a freshly harvested woodcock above his head.  As he turned to me, the smile on his worn face said the whole story – this being his first upland bird, he immediately asked, “When can we do this again?”

He grew up hunting, mostly for deer, and while he knew his way around a shotgun, he was new to the grouse and woodcock world. As I approached, he patted the dog on the head for a job well done and shook my hand tight. I too smiled, proud of his first bird and pleased by his statement about wanting to go again. I had been eager and excited to introduce him to my yearly fall obsession, and I find once one gets a taste of grouse and woodcock hunting, they too become addicted.

Little things like a shaking a budding grouse and woodcock hunter’s hand after harvesting their first bird is a special moment we all need to enjoy more often.


The thought of losing the little things we love about grouse and woodcock hunting, some as simple as twirling a tail feather in your fingers, watching a puppy’s first day afield and shaking the hand of a smiling new hunter, reveals truly what’s at stake for the future of our sporting traditions if we don’t strive to create healthy forests now.


To join or for more information, go to www.ruffed.org.
*This column was originally published in the Spring 2017 issue of the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine. Photo by Project Upland
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Maybe it is just that I have gotten a little older, but during the last grouse season it seemed birds flushed and accelerated away from me a lot faster than ever before. Of course, if you talk to my hunting partners, they would probably say it slightly different – they would tell you that I am missing them by a wider margin now than ever before. But, after very thorough questioning, I’ve been assured by our great team of RGS and AWS biologists that the birds we are hunting today are not any faster than their ancestors.

In other parts of our lives, however, things are truly accelerating . . . and in some cases, very rapidly. One of those areas is communications and the flow of information. We are all keenly aware of how technology has altered our access to information – how we get it, how much we get, and how we use it. Today there are 200 million smartphone users in the United States and more than half the world’s population has ready access to the internet. Those numbers will only continue growing in the years ahead.

Knowledge is power.  In Thomas L. Friedman’s new book, Thank You for Being Late, he uses the term “Age of Accelerations” to describe how the expanding availability of information engages us, empowers us and accelerates our lives and the world in which we live. But he also warns that easily obtained information can be used to achieve good purposes or bad ones. All knowledge is information, but not all information accurately reflects knowledge . . . as we have recently seen in the news.

We deal with challenges like that at RGS and AWS, too. When we performed our strategic planning work last year, we identified “overcoming resistance to sound scientific management practices” as one of the major obstacles preventing us from achieving our mission to preserve our sporting traditions through the creation of healthy woodland habitat for ruffed grouse, American woodcock and other forest wildlife.

Sound scientific management practices used to create young forest habitat are regularly assailed by sowers of “fake news”, “alternative facts”, disinformation and misinformation that create obstacles to achieving our mission. The perpetrators carry names like the Indiana Forest Alliance, Vermont Wildlife Coalition, Southern Environmental Law Center, Heartwood, Mountain True, Wildlife Alliance of Maine, Forest Watch, not to mention Humane Society of United States, Sierra Club and so many others.

The RGS and AWS approach to communications and information flow contains both tech 3offensive and defensive components to counteract the corrosive effects of these deliberate campaigns to obscure the truth and confuse those less knowledgeable. The primary tools we use to thwart these assaults are Ruffed Grouse Society magazine and our website, www.ruffedgrousesociety.org.

Those two outlets coupled with the RGS National News emails and Ruff Country News emails supply factual information centered on the three core pillars of our mission: Healthy Forests, Abundant Wildlife and Sporting Traditions. Through them we defend the truth about the sound scientific principles we advocate.

Since 2011 the magazine has won 10 APEX Awards for Publication Excellence, an annual competition for corporate and nonprofit publishers, editors, writers and designers who create print, web, electronic and social media. APEX awards include categories for editorial content and for graphical design and layout. While it is certainly gratifying to publish an award-winning magazine, we believe a high quality, attractive, content-rich magazine is more likely to be thoroughly read by our members and more apt to be shared with others.

tech 1The RGS website has become an increasingly important communications tool both for RGS and AWS members and for the general public. Since 2013, our website has seen a 95 percent increase in pageviews and a 67 percent increase in unique users. We’ve seen similar increases in new visitor sessions, returning visitor sessions and organic traffic. Our web traffic has increased not only because of the updated look and feel of the website and the expanded range of information posted, web traffic has increased because of the exciting new merchandise available on RGS Mart. If you have not visited our website lately, you should check it out and reacquaint yourself with all new available products.

We use social media channels and host social media events like the Grouse Camp Tour and Project Upland videos to go on the offensive by engaging a broader spectrum of the general public to spread the word about the importance of young forest habitat in keeping our nation’s forests healthy and forest wildlife populations abundant and diverse.

You will find RGS and AWS on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. We host blogs on a variety of topics. The all-digital new member drive that launched last October is the most successful membership drive we have ever conducted. All these techniques combine to expand our numbers, broaden our demographic profile and empower our members and friends with facts and knowledge.

GCT-page-logo-2016Technology has accelerated the world in which we live and RGS and AWS are keeping pace by making sure our members and friends are armed with accurate facts and information to fight against those who would deter us from our mission to preserve our sporting traditions through the creation of healthy woodland habitat for ruffed grouse, American woodcock and other forest wildlife.

To join or for more information, go to www.ruffed.org.

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WHY WE HUNT, Member Don Mallicoat

I don’t remember the first bird I shot. But I do remember when I knew I was a bird hunter. As a burr-headed boy of about 12, I was walking with Uncle Jim along a field edge in Alabama hunting rabbits behind a couple of beagles. The sudden eruption of a covey of quail not only startled my nerves, but drew something up from deep within that said, “This is who you are.” I have now been a bird hunter for 50 years.

Want to know how serious that makes me? Growing up in Alabama, a state with a three-month deer season with one-deer-a-day, I never went deer hunting. Never killed one, never had the desire. But give me a cut-corn field in September for dove, or a soybean or cornfield edge for quail, and I was in heaven. Unfortunately, my early quail hunting opportunities were limited until I got out on my own and the Army sent me to some pretty good places for quail hunting: Forts Campbell, Bragg and Benning come to mind. And of course, bird hunting means bird dogs, and they’ve been there with me through the decades. It is true: I wouldn’t do it without the dogs.

And then I was introduced to the King of Gamebirds, the lordly ruffed grouse. After leaving the Army, we moved to the mountains of western North Carolina. I went to a local sporting goods store and asked where I could go quail hunting. The guy behind the counter said, “None around here. If you’re a bird hunter you’ll have to hunt grouse.” And so it began. I don’t remember the “where” and “when” of my first grouse flush. But I do remember the look on my setter Belle’s face when it broke cover. That look of wonderment as if to say, “Hey, these birds don’t play fair. What’s this about not holding for my point?”

So here I find myself with grey in my beard and in the winter of my years, my thoughts turn to why I hunt birds. What is so captivating about that brown blur to draw me back to the forests and fields every year? For me, it is the unmeasureable. Bird hunting releases me from a life full of metrics to simply experience the moment. My everyday life is full of numbers:  sales goals, profit/loss statements, survey results and counting the number of Twitter and Facebook followers. Yes, I know some folks keep a gunning log recording flushes and birds in the bag. More power to them.  I’m sure for them that’s part of the hunting experience.

I don’t, simply because it is an experience I don’t want to put a number on. How do you measure the look your 12-year-old son gives you when he shoots his first quail? Tell me how I can put a number on the anticipation when the sound of a dog bell goes silent in a Wisconsin aspen thicket? Where is the spreadsheet column to record the smiling eyes of my setter when he passes in front of me on an Appalachian mountain ridge on a crisp Autumn morning? Somebody please tell me how to transfer to numbers the laughter that follows your hunting buddy muffing a straightaway on a grouse down a logging road . . . with both barrels. At the end of the day, whether there are birds to clean or not, and the flush counter on my whistle lanyard is reset, the memories will always be there. That is why I hunt.

To join or for more info, go to www.ruffed.org

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WHY WE HUNT, Member Cooper Rossner

These connections I make with people, dogs, birds, my heritage and the soil along with the memories and stories I’ll tell for the rest of my life are why I hunt.

Pilot and I with Max, the patriarchI got into this racket sort of backwards. What I mean by that is . . . I was not brought up gun in hand, nor raised in your stereotypical hunting household with time-honored generational sporting traditions. My bloodline has always had a hand in the outdoors, but was primarily concerned with fishing, and when my father had his fourth son (me), he chose to work overtime instead of go hunting. It was well-worth it though, and I am certainly not complaining. My family moved from the congested and dyspeptic, stripmalled and subdivisioned Camden County to Cape May, New Jersey about halfway through my life. This is where I fell in love with all that nature has to offer, but mostly the birds. Cape May has been described in countless ways as an aviary paradise drawing thousands upon thousands of migrating birds from shorebirds to ducks and geese, to hawks, eagles and songbirds all consequently attracting birders, artists, hunters, etc. and ultimately giving me and my shotgun a run for our money.

To answer why I hunt, though in one word, I’d say the connections. I moved down here and almost immediately connected with the birds, mostly the woodcock, and waterfowl logging countless hours of conservation work with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited and a whole slew of various agencies. In the midst of it all, I discovered wooden duck decoys and the forgotten culture that is the “traditional sporting world”. This is what I mean when I say I got into this business backwards. I fell in love with decoys, literature, paintings, stories and old guns before I even thought about hunting myself. Now, decoy-making is my primary source of income, I hang around gun shops, art shows and workshops every chance I get, and I’m chasing birds nearly every day of the season.

Some of my decoys, ducks, yellowlegs and woodcockThe fella that got me started carving decoys is also the one who got me started with DU and got me obsessed with hunting upland game birds. He eventually got tired of me hanging around, I guess, and passed me over to an older gentleman who would become my mentor in decoy carving. I consider him one of my best friends now, and we like to chase birds together every chance we get. I have made friends with some of the finest people this world has to offer due to the out of doors. The breeder of my dog and his wife, of Shore Shot Kennels, have become good friends and we enjoy getting out for a woodcock hunts each season. Friends from the waterfowling and decoy-making world have taken the step over to chase woodcock with me, some haven’t turned back. It’s a great thing to be a part of, and I don’t really know if my life would be quite as exciting without all of this. As I got into hunting, my dad got back into it seeing as he has some time for himself now. In my dad, I happened to find another best friend with whom I have the pleasure of creating and sharing countless memories made afield.

Shore Shot’s Big River “Pilot”Not to undermine any other connections I had made prior to canine companionship, but I think the most formative relationship I have had in this business has been that which I found in my blossoming, solid-liver shorthair, Pilot. He’s taught me more about the world and myself than I think any of the over-priced textbooks I’m plagued with at college ever could. Bird dogs find birds for us and give us something to brag about at the watering hole, but when we look closer we see that they teach us patience, understanding, determination, motivation to go even when it’s a bitter five degrees and looking like snow, and most of all they teach us how to be and how to have a true friend. There’s a reason that the focal point of upland art, literature, film, storytelling, etc. is and ought to be that of the dog in any given scenario. Humans are abundant and crude, bird dogs, however, well they are something special. These connections I make with people, dogs, birds, my heritage and the soil along with the memories and stories I’ll tell for the rest of my life are why I hunt. I wouldn’t have my life any other way, and this is the direction I intend on heading for the foreseeable future. The dogs, the art, the history, the birds and the people that I am connected to are what have helped make me the person I am, for better or for worse . . . I’m rolling with it!

More about Cooper and his decoys and stories can be found on Instagram and Twitter: @capemaydecoys

To join RGS or for more information go to www.ruffed.org

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