RGS chapters are striving to ensure national forests are properly managed in the Southern Appalachian Region to preserve our grouse hunting traditions for future generations.
The famed conservationist Aldo Leopold once said, “We shall never achieve harmony with the land, anymore than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve but to strive.” The word “strive”, being the operative, is exactly what RGS chapter volunteers are doing in North Carolina and Georgia to ensure our public lands, namely national forests, are being properly managed for wildlife.
With two setters on point up a steep ridge off a North Carolina national forest trail, longtime RGS member and grouse hunter Jeff Johnson rounded one side for a better view as he directed 19-year-old college student Noah Smith to approach from the other. A report of one flush, and then another, escaped the hunters through the young forest. The grouse escaped, as the King of Gamebirds often does, straight up the mountain without a shot. The sequence of one generation of grouse hunter working in tandem with the next generation paralleled the discussions RGS staff had with the local volunteers from North Carolina and Georgia regarding the absolute need to have a bigger voice to influence proper forest management on national forests.
In North Carolina, the Tour met with Jim Gray, Jeff Johnson, Tom England and Noah Smith, among others from the local RGS chapters, to discuss the state of young forest habitat and hunting in their area. Through our discussions, Jim Gray urged that the continued decline of habitat populations, not just for grouse, is the biggest threat to their public lands. Jim, and others from the chapter, have spent countless hours making a stand for proper forest management on national forests in the region through numerous political processes including the current Nantahala and Pisgah National Forest Plan Revision process.
One of the first things Jeff Johnson stressed was the need to support the next generation of grouse hunters. The local volunteers had a profound understanding that in order to ensure future advocacy for habitat and wildlife, we need to increase the voice for young forest habitat. For example, Jim, Jeff and Tom have made a concerted effort to grouse hunt with Noah Smith, a 19-year-old college student, to educate the next generation on the importance of habitat and to “pass the torch”, in a sense, to new grouse hunters.
Noah stressed why he is passionate about grouse conservation and hunting, “Without grouse conservation, my dogs wouldn’t have anything to chase in the forest that is truly wild. The fact grouse are truly wild are what make them so special.”
The Tour had the pleasure to stay at a hunting camp along a trout stream owned by Monte Seehorn near Hayseville, North Carolina. The next day, Monte and Bill Bunch showcased RGS chapter habitat projects in northern Georgia. Monte is an 83-year-old grouse hunter who continues to climb the mountains grouse hunting and to advocate for young forest habitat creation in Georgia. During our hunt, we asked Monte why grouse conservation continues to be important to him at his age. “I’m stubborn . . . I’m not willing to let the Forest Service get away with not doing what they should be doing on their own,” he adamantly responded. “I’m old enough to know what grouse populations used to be, and I know what habitat management can do for grouse here in the future.”
We found birds in Georgia, and while walking the trail back to the truck for the final steps of this year’s Tour, we heard a grouse drumming deep down a seemingly endless ridge, almost as if sounding a signal of goodbye as the Tour ended.
The grouse hunting story of the Southern Appalachian region is one of historic tradition with optimism and potential for the future. Throughout the Tour, we found birds where we found habitat, however the bottom line is that thousands of national forestlands are not being properly managed, and therein lies the potential for grouse populations and sporting traditions in this region for the future.
The purpose of the Grouse Camp Tour is to spread awareness about the need for young forest habitat by discussing regional and local habitat creation issues with chapter volunteers. For our North Carolina and Georgia stop, special thanks go to Jim Gray, Jeff Johnson, Noah Smith, Tom England, Monte Seehorn and Bill Bunch, among others from the local chapters, for helping with the Tour and for donating your time and efforts for the benefit of forest wildlife.
Also, thanks to SportDOG Brand for being the official dog collar sponsor of this year’s Tour. www.sportdog.com.