I grouse hunt because it’s in my DNA. Surprisingly, it doesn’t have to be passed down through genetics. Take a stroll through the grouse woods and you might find it quickly imprinted in yours.
The story of grouse hunting for me starts somewhere in the Deep South . . . in a part of Georgia, oddly enough, where there are no grouse. I’m still a third generation bird hunter – Every winter from December to the middle of January, we hunt the bird every grouse hunter knows: woodcock.
At a young age I was always with the bird dogs in the kennels until I was old enough to go and watch, then shoot. Prior to grouse hunting, I had hunted quail, chukar, pheasant and woodcock. Most of my hunting was with my dad, so grouse was the only bird he had hunted that I hadn’t. He made his first trip to grouse country a couple years before I did. The bird dogs are my world, and when I found another game bird to hunt, I wanted to burst with excitement.
We first ventured to the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Northwest Wisconsin. The 20-hour trek, multiple fuel stops and dog walks soon became well worth it with the beauty of the trees changing colors so much sooner than our still snake-ridden October in Georgia. We made it to our cabin as the sun was setting, so we settled in and took care of the dogs.
The next morning in our “middle of nowhere grouse camp”, my excitement to hunt this new terrain and bird they called the “King” made my full stomach the most distant thought in my mind. I was chomping at the bit to watch my dogs hunt this beautiful land, so we headed to our first stop.
There we parked, got the dogs suited up, put on our vests, prepared our guns and shells and then started. We sent the dog off and 100 yards away he goes on point. There were four of us, so we got into a line and boom, the biggest woodcock I’ve seen flushes in front of the other hunters! It was that moment I knew I was in prime wild bird country.
Fifty yards later another point was stuck, two woodcock up, two down. All three of the other hunters had a bird within 10 minutes and about 200 yards from the truck to boot! In shock of how quickly things were going, we carried on and wouldn’t you know, 100 yards away my most faithful setter goes on point again. As I approached, I was nervous because our GPS was malfunctioning, and we couldn’t find the dog! Coincidentally, I was in the right spot as we searched and I bagged a huge woodcock.
I couldn’t have asked for a better start, at this point I was ready to see a grouse. Finally, we get to an area that looked like true grouse habitat, and we flushed two out of the trees. I saw what looked to me like a brown fighter jet weaving through the spruce trees.
We stayed for a week and I was getting to see some more grouse action and my dad and his friends were harvesting birds. I had made a couple attempts shooting at grouse but I couldn’t connect. I was learning so much about the bird and its habitat, plus I was getting to harvest woodcock. I was discouraged as our final day in the northwoods dawned, and my dream of harvesting a grouse hadn’t been fulfilled. I felt so blessed to had fallen in love with the land and to experience something new with my dogs, but it put a lot of pressure on me to make my last morning count.
Thirty minutes into our final hunt, it finally happened. All the hours driving, campfire stories and time I’ve spent caring for my dogs was instantaneously worth it. I’ll always have that grouse burned into my brain . . . the angle it flew . . . the dog I hunted over . . . and my excitement as I yelled to tell my dad. Our last hunt that evening lasted a few hours and we were on our way back to the truck for the final time, but within 200 yards, I bagged another grouse! I was so proud.
There is truly no other bird similar to a grouse when hunting with dogs. I fell in love with the land, the bird, the people, everything about grouse hunting. My yearly trips are my most cherished hunt. I grouse hunt because it’s in my DNA. Surprisingly, it doesn’t have to be passed down through genetics. Take a stroll through the grouse woods and you might find it quickly imprinted in yours. ~ Payton Gunby, RGS Member from Georgia
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