PUBLISHED: 2:43 PM on Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Grouse Hunts

Photo courtesy of Barb Turlley
  Kathy gets very close to a Blue Grouse. In the summer, they can be quite tame.
Birds and feeding on birds are both ways that Alaska residents get a lot of pleasure from some of their avian neighbors. In my family, we have fun with experiences with each of these activities. We've never tried the spring "hooter" (Blue Grouse) hunting, but it sounds like a good excuse to hike up some snow-covered mountain slopes. In the fall, usually when we are hunting deer, is when we also harvest grouse. When we come home with no meat for the freezer, it's some consolation that at least we've got a little meat for the dinner table. More than that, shooting grouse links in with the predator-prey instincts that have brought us into the forest with a gun. There is definitely skill involved. Over the years, grouse, and sometimes ptarmigan, have definitely added to our family's outdoor enjoyment.

One of our first encounters with harvesting Blue Grouse in the Northern Rainforest occurred a couple of years after we moved to Juneau. My husband, Kim, and I were hunting deer one September day on Admiralty Island. We were heading down a steep, timber-covered hill, paralleling each other on the edge of a deep ravine. When Kim scared up a grouse, it flew a short ways and lit in the dark forest just downhill from him. Unable to see it through the rifle's scope, Kim positioned himself to line up a twig with the grouse's neck and then shot the twig. "I got it," he called to me as he walked down to get the grouse. I called back that he was not looking for it in the right location and directed him to go about 30 feet further. To my surprise, Kim picked up a dead grouse from each location. Game doesn't line up like that very often.

Grouse were our only harvest on an enjoyable South Douglas deer hunt with our daughter, Kathy. Our friend, Carl Perkins, acted as a guide for us. Rather than hike all the way to the alpine, we went to about 1500 feet elevation, which is still a bit below tree line. Deer sign was thick in this area of wet meadows interspersed with tree-covered ridges. We made camp on the edge of the meadow area, which we reached about 6:00 p.m. We didn't want to spread our scent around the area before we hunted it. We talked in whispers. Though we didn't see any deer, I enjoyed our dusk walk very much. On the way back to camp in the dark, we heard a Great Horned Owl hooting in a tree near our camp. We really liked not having a tent. We had a good view of the sky from under the edge of the fly. We set an alarm to wake us before daylight.

I thought the plan was that we would make an early morning hunt, then come back to camp to eat, so I didn't bring any food with us when we set out to hunt. So that we could move more quietly, Kim was the only one who even brought a pack. Kim and Carl each had a rifle; Kathy and I shared one. Sometimes we all four walked together, sometimes we split in pairs: Kim and me, and Carl and Kathy. After a couple of hours, we decided that it might be a good strategy if Kathy and I sat and watched a big meadow while Kim and Carl hunted on up the ridge.

Apparently, if it ever had been the plan to go back to camp for breakfast, it wasn't any more. Kathy and I found some blueberries to eat, then she went to sleep while I watched the meadow. Kim and Carl hadn't had any better success than I had when they returned in an hour or so. Carl was sharing with us a hunting area of his and some of his hunting methods. I was coming to the sad conclusion that hunting was a much higher priority with him than eating breakfast. It was a wonderful surprise when he produced a sack of hard rolls, a package of lunchmeat and a piece of cheese from a big pocket in the back of his vest. Sustained by a hearty sandwich, I felt much better about not going back to camp. We split into pairs again and worked our way along the steep side of the upward-trending ridge. We saw a couple of does, but no antlered deer.

We were swinging around a knob on the ridge, about to head back to camp, when Kim and I heard a shot from Carl and Kathy's position. We were briefly hopeful that they might have found a buck, but when the shot was quickly followed by two or three more shots, the hope that they were succeeding in bagging it diminished. When a couple more shots were immediately followed by a grouse flying past us from their direction, we realized they had come upon a flock of grouse and were harvesting them. Kathy hadn't missed a single grouse and had bagged five. Carl also had five. We were very pleased to have gotten some meat, even if it wasn't very much. As we were walking back to camp, we encountered another flock and Kim neatly clipped the heads off five more. Even though we hadn't gotten any deer, we'd had a good time and the grouse would provide us with a few meals.

Sometimes, grouse have been our conciliatory prize on goat hunts, also. Our 19-year-old son, John, had been away over the summer one year, but was here with us during the fall. Along with 14-year-old Kathy, we had spent an October weekend goat hunting north of Juneau. Even though we weren't successful in getting a goat, it was an extremely fun weekend. The high mountains are always so pretty and the time spent hiking and camping together was wonderful. Neither was the trip totally without game. We came upon three grouse not too far below timberline. The first two were together on the same limb. Kathy took the .243 and John used the 30.06. They positioned themselves, took aim and when Kim said, "fire when ready," Kathy shot and a second later John shot. Both grouse came tumbling down, shot through the head. We decided that it was Kim's turn on the next grouse we saw. He bagged his with a similar shot.

A few grouse in the freezer are always a handy thing to choose from when I'm wondering what to cook for dinner.