by Naomi K. Shapiro
Grouse are absolutely DEE-LISH-OUS! Grouse populations are usually in a ten year up-and-down-cycle. Some years, all you have to do is go out, and in an hour you'll have your limit. Some years, you will find grouse difficult to locate – BUT the savvy hunter always comes home with birds. It's the same thing all over again: Do your "homework," use the right equipment, and be patient. You'll be successful!
Over the years, the 20-gauge shotgun seems the best choice for hunting grouse. It's relatively light, doesn't have a big, hard recoil, which allows you to get off at least two, relatively accurate, shots, and is not unwieldy. Load your shotgun with the following: The first two shells have #6 shot pellets, and the third a #4. The reason for this is when you first jump a grouse, they're up close, and you want a wide broadcast pattern with a lot of pellets. But let's say you miss (c'mon –admit it—you do miss – sometimes). As the grouse fly further away, the third-chambered shell, with a #4 pellet load will give you a tighter pattern, increased accuracy, and more knock-down power.
Sashay low-lying areas that usually run along creek bottoms or thick river bottom areas, because these areas have a lot of cover, rather than what you have in open hardwood. Shots may be more difficult to take in these thick brush, tag alder swamp areas, but you're going to see a LOT MORE BIRDS than you will if you walk open hardwood areas. Take the hard route (and it is!), and see a lot of birds and take a lot of shots. As it is, most shots should be in the 10 to 15 yard range in front of you. The grouse are right there when you flush them.
Good numbers of grouse hunters use dogs. The dogs will cover a lot of ground -- far more than you can -- BUT, they're also ahead of you and will flush birds way out in front of you in areas where you can't get a shot, or they've flown to the side of you, or indeed are just too far away. No problem using dogs, but many prefer to walk and jump the grouse themselves. Be sure to enjoy the "sounds of silence" that you'll find, except for the "au natural" sounds that abound. As it does for many hunters, the entire experience will give you a great deal of inner peace.
(Phil Schweik of Hooksetters Guide Services contributed to this article).