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.
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.
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.
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