Saturday, October 06, 2007

Checking Out The Grouse Coverts

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It was a day that would soon turn much too warm to hunt deer but it was fine for checking out some grouse coverts. They are spots, like favorite mushroom patches, tucked deeply away in a special locked compartment in my mind.

They are not shared but on occasion are written about with no clues as to their whereabouts. These are spots I’ve found over many years of wading through bracken fern and other shintangle to find. They are too precious to share.

A fairly stout walking stick was still propped next to a tree where I had parked, and most people probably just thought it was a broken limb. My one-eyed vision makes me somewhat susceptible at times to tripping. The conveniently placed walking stick gives me a third leg of sorts, and helps me navigate some of the nastiest terrain.

The landowner, a lad from downstate with an interest in deer hunting, asked my opinion a few years ago about food plots. In return for my help after checking out the grouse potential, granted permission to hunt. I don’t hunt it often, and my skill with a scattergun has diminished with my vision, but it bears a brief walk-around a few times each year.

I set out, walking the edge of his 30-acre food plot. It was early afternoon, and I walked slowly toward a dogwood tangle and stopped where I’d have a clear field of fire. I shuffled to a stop, tapped my foot rapidly on the ground, and with the roar of thunderous wings, a ruffed ground quit the area. The bird sailed out along the edge of a green field, cocked his wings, and side-slipped effortlessly through the trees.

My walking stick quickly turned into my Winchester 101 12-gauge shotgun, and as I shouldered the stick and found the bird with one eye, I pulled the imaginary trigger. The bird didn’t fall, and then it pitched into a tight spot. I didn’t follow that grouse for a possible second flush because I knew that it would next fly onto adjoining properly that now held a house. Frightened, the bird might fly into the house or through a window. I also knew it would flush only about 75 yards from the house, and that is a danger zone. It’s illegal to discharge a firearm (or my walking stick) within 450 of a dwelling.

Grouse, especially early in the season, often hang together. Find one bird, and another is usually nearby.

Three more steps were taken, and this time I was prepared for the thunderous flush. This bird slanted out in the other direction, corkscrewed his body in mid-flight behind the dogwood tangle, and disappeared from sight before I could raise my walking stick to swing on him.

Those were the only two birds near the food-plot edge so I began walking a couple of two-track trails my young friend uses to get around to his various ground blinds and tree stands. One bird flushed wildly ahead of me but it had been walking and pecking in the two-track and probably had watched me walk into the woods.

I kept moseying along, amazed at how many leaves had fallen before even coloring up, and soon spotted a made-to-order hunting set-up. I learned this method many years ago, have taught it to my son and one friend, and it’s a perfect way to hunt ruffed grouse without a dog.

This method is based on one simple fact: given the opportunity, a ruffed grouse will usually flush from any cover that is totally different than the surrounding environment. For instance, an uprooted tree in an open woods would be a possibility. A single aspen tree surrounded by bracken ferns, or a tiny patch of wild grapes surrounded by ferns or brush would be great places to hunt.

The method means walking slowly, stopping often, and moving back and forth in a zigzag pattern. Grouse, given the chance, will run on the ground. The man who taught me this technique was like Babe Ruth pointing to where he would park his next home run. My friend would silently point ahead to the grape arbor, and we would shuffle slowly, stop, zigzag back and forth, but when we reached the grapes, we’d both be in the open for a clear shot.

We would tap our feet rapidly on the ground like a running fox or house cat, and it was more than the bird could handle. Up they would go, and he and I shot many grouse using this method before I wrote a magazine article about it. Now I’ve taught others how to do it. It’s not difficult to learn but a hunter must believe in it and be able to recognize key spots.

I later put up a grouse, and it flew straight away, the easiest of all shots taken at upland game. The day was beginning to get very warm, and I’d seen four birds. Often, I get my pleasure aiming my walking stick at this rapidly departing game birds.

Once in a while, on a day when my vision seems better than normal, I make a similar slow walk with my shotgun. Again, I’m checking out the grouse coverts but when a bird flushes, I shoot. It’s often a miss, but I’ve accomplished my goal.

Shooting at the occasional bird keeps them honest. It gives them some respect for humans walking through the brush, and one shot does much to educate young birds.

It’s unimportant whether I hit or miss. For me, being in the woods with my shotgun or walking stick is all the same to me. It’s not so much about gunning success that brings me here as it is being out there and having one more opportunity to hunt ruffed grouse in a manner that puts more of the odds in their favor. That too is important to me.

Posted by Dave Richey on 10/06 at 07:09 AM
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