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Posts Tagged ‘grouse’


My snowshoe aluminium claws broke the silence in the woods, when they crushed through the ice and into the softer snow below the crust. I was well over a kilometer away from the nearest barn and I was surrounded by evergreen trees. They stood tall with their majestic winter coats and seemed on the verge of collapse because of the weight of the snow.

January 15th, 2016 marked the last day of sharp-tailed grouse for my hunting zone. I thought to myself it would be amazing to maybe get a harvest on the last day of their season. I was out hunting snowshoe hare, grouse and maybe if time permitting a few rock doves over by the farm.

Still-hunting for snowshoe hare and grouse are very similar in technique, it is basically scanning the hidden dark spots at the base of spruce bows and fallen logs, walking slowly and frequently stopping to look and try to identify shapes and colors that don’t fit in.

Hares have black tips on their ears and are generally straight up listening for danger, as for their black shiny eyes these are easily spotted with a keen sight.

Grouse can either be sitting at eye level on small branches in a tree or at ground level tucked away in a ball puffing out their feathers to stay warm during the winter months. Or just simply walking about like a domestic chicken, in short but quick bursts.

Once you see one, lock your eyes on them and stay with them because they can lose you in an instant as they dash around foliage. If you decide to follow, then make sure you are well versed in the use of a compass because they will bring you further into the brush but they will always stay in their circuit. Which is invisible to us unless you follow their tracks in the snow.

After about two hours of following hare leads, I was slowly making my way back to the farm, when something caught my eye at the base of a pine tree on my right about twenty meters in from the main trail.

There was a dead fallen log leaning diagonally under the pine tree up against its trunk and the pines lowest branches were buried with its tips buried under the icy snow forming a natural skirting almost all around the base of the tree.

What struck me was this black circle just sitting under the fallen log, I mean it was a perfect black circle. Deep down I had a feeling it was a grouse but I was not sure yet and couldn’t decide if it was a malformation on the tree, like a large accumulation of sap on the log in the shape of a ball.

It would have been unpracticed and unsafe for me to take a shot at the dark object without truly knowing what it was. I was excited and yet physically I remained calm in my decision, I had no choice but to move in closer for a good confirmed shot.

I loaded two shells into the shotgun and pumped one in the chamber then instantly clicked it into safety on position. I lifted my left leg and started to make my way toward the tree through the deep snow and dense brush.

My first two steps through the snow aroused the grouse with a thrashing sound which caused it to turn its head to the right, I had my final confirmation, it was a grouse.

My shot was going to be a very difficult one with over twenty meters between us through several thin branches. In addition while aiming I had to point low below the log where the grouse was hiding. I only had about a five-inch diameter to make the shot and the bird was on the move toward the north.

To make matters worse, my snowshoes had failed me and I went through the snow on the edge of the trail and sunk down to my waist. I was using the more modern pair of snowshoes, my Michigan’s would have kept me at the surface of the snow crust.

Once I got myself into a descent shooting position I shouldered my 870 and fired a shot, aiming to high and missing my shot completely.

The grouse jumped out to the right and made his way north and then back around the front of the tree heading west.

I saw him through the greenery but it was not a clear shot. I tried to chase it but sunk even further into the snow.

I was instantly broken and felt and incredible amount of frustration. Gosh!! I love the winter woods but it can be a tough environment. You might live incredible hunts but you will also have days like these.

I tried to circle around but the grouse he was gone and my hunt was also done as it was getting close to dark.

I know there will be next year’s season but this one was a bust, this is when you must dig deep and find the positive in the experience and not find things to blame.

Like there could have been less snow, I should have used different shot or a different shotgun.

Next fall will remedy this and for now I can continue to pursue pigeon and snowshoe hare and hope to make up for this day.

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There was a strong breeze coming in from the west that brought with it some cold air; for a moment I felt a chill down my back while descending the ridge toward the creek. The sun was out and the birds were singing and you just felt this renewed source of energy in the air, what an incredible day I had chosen to visit my friends farm and hunt small game.

I was on the lookout for woodchucks and rock doves. By the time my descent had finished I was now standing at the edge of the creek, the water was still incredibly cold with the water levels higher than usual caused by the melting snow and ice.

I crossed over to the other side choosing my path carefully stepping on the large boulders just below the surface of the crystal clear water, high enough to prevent my socks from getting wet, also not to allow the water to reach the top of the boot which was just below the knee.

It was now time for the climb to the rock formation at the top of the southern ridge, it is a really enjoyable walk but I am alway cautious passing through the wall of evergreen, because the cattle have carved out pathways that they use frequently and I would not want to surprise a young bull into a face to face encounter.

As the years go by and as you spend more time outdoors hunting small game it is inevitable that you will make mistakes which causes you to lose out on a few harvest opportunities. I find the trick is once the frustration has been released through a few swear words and licking your wounds; you then decide to learn from them. Observe and then you promise yourself that you will not be doing this twice. The mistakes I mean.

One example of this is, a few years ago I was walking up the whole length of the creek in late October trying to flush ducks and after several hundred meters I was starting to get discouraged and tired of still hunting. Not one duck in sight, as soon as I let my guard down and started walking tall and ordinarily, I scared off two mallards and they got away before I could get a shot off because of the tough angle of the shot.

This has happened to me with Grouse, Woodcock and also Woodchucks. I walked right into their still stance trap and then boom in an explosion of speed they were gone. Once you become an expert in their habitat I believe you get to know when you should flick the on switch for still hunting alert mode.

So on this particular day I put my theory to the test, I made my way through the cattle trail and got up to the rock formation. I could have walked right up to the crest and looked around and gaze over the horizon like a king over his kingdom but every single game would fly off or run for cover. Of course the red squirrel and crow alert calls wouldn’t help.

So, instead I leaned forward and just popped my head over the crest and I found myself practically staring into the eyes of a woodchuck who was sun-bathing just meters in front of me. I put myself in reverse fairly quickly and lowered myself into the low ground and took a few deep breaths. Loaded a shell into my 870, clicked the safety on and then started to lift the top part of my body just above the crest looking right back into the woodchucks eyes.

Lined up my bead sight with the vitals, completed my three breaths then slow pushed my safety off. Moments later I released my shot and harvested my first spring woodchuck. That night I pan-fried some nice thighs in maple syrup with Cajun cowboy spices from Canadian Tire. It was delicious.

Two years ago, I guided a friend duck hunting in my canoe, he was in the front ready to shoot and I was paddling us through a maze of weeds, but because I had learned so much about ducks and their habitat and knew the swamp extremely well, I had also observed like a hawk and mentally recorded certain gold pot spots. I had it down to a science. I knew exactly when he should shoulder his shotgun and be ready. On this day we did not make same mistake twice. Instead we made nice Mallard dishes.

Take your time still hunting on foot or paddling through the weeds, when you feel it, you will know when to flick on the switch and be extremely observant and be ready.

The results are very rewarding and a confirmation that you are learning. Observation just like conservation is paramount.

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The cool autumn morning air swirled into the truck as I rolled down the country road with my window down listening to John Anderson “Seminole Wind”. It was still dark out and I had planned to drive out and arrive at the farm just before sunlight to have an edge on the ducks, hares and grouse. At dawn they might still be moving about looking for food.

As I got closer to the farm, I turned off the radio and could now only hear my tires on the gravel road along with a few song birds. I took my foot off the gas pedal to slow down without breaking and then turned up the main road to the barn.

By the time I unhooked the electrical fence and drove up the lane way to park the vehicle at the top of the ridge my friend was already outside ready to greet me. We had a hot cup of coffee, and then chatted away about the local news. The sky was pink now and the rock doves were flying just a few feet above us heading south dancing in the wind. To the west a rafter of eastern wild turkeys were playing around in the fresh cow dung looking for seeds, actually they were pretty close to the cattle but that did not seem to bother the young bulls too much.

It was going to be a perfect day with a mixture of sun and cloud, maybe even slight rain but that kind of weather is great for ducks and the temperature was sitting at about thirteen degrees Celsius. On my way in, I had been preparing myself mentally for the approach and having a good hunt, not focusing too much on what I was going to harvest but rather just try to enjoy this time I was going to have alone through the trails in the woods and along the creek.

The fall colors were brilliant, bright reds and yellows surrounded you with the forest just glistening with diamond like light flashes as the water seeped through the cracks of the leaves, rocks and deadfall on the forest floor.

I had decided to start off the morning with grouse, heading west toward higher ground and following some of the trails up to the top of the hill through the woods. So, I packed up the truck put on my gear grabbed a few shells along with my 870 and cut across the western hay-field.

The panoramic view at the top of the hill was stunning and offered a full view of the two southern hay fields where the cattle herd was gathered, the creek running west to east and then the swamp. When hunting grouse I find that the still-hunting method works best for me; essentially I am walking-up the grouse both to get them to burst into flight or get them to drum, so that you can spot them and shoot.

Sometimes if you get lucky you can see them sitting high on a stump or just off to the side of the trail near the forest floor just meters in front of you. If this should happen to you don’t try to get up too close in which case you will scare them into flight and render your shot a difficult one. Try to take the shot from where you’re standing and avoid fast movements. It sometimes depends on which kind of shotgun shell shot you use and how far you are from the bird. # 6 works well for me and I have harvested grouse that were a fair distance away.

Still-hunting requires a lot of focus and careful stalking, which in my case is very slow walking through jagged rocks and deadfall that are hidden under the leaves. It can be slippery and at times dangerous for your ankles. So, after a nice hike through the trails, I decided to turn south and head through the woods down to the creek and follow it back to the barns to the east and try to harvest some rock doves.

The descent was steep, so I unloaded my shotgun and moved my way down the side of the ridge sometimes pushing up against trees so I would not fall over. By the time I got to the edge of the creek, I reloaded my shotgun with some #2 shells and started to walk leisurely to the east through some tall grass and over the beaten down mud trail that the cattle used to navigate back and forth between the fields. 

This part of the creek was wider and you most definitely needed waist-high waders to go through the water, so I chose to stay on the northern side. I had to pull my boots out of thick mud several times and make sure that I stepped on solid ground to avoid falling over. My boots once removed from the muck would release the swamp gas odor into the air.

I started to still-hunt again now that I was closer to the wider part of the creek and further away from the tall grass. I was scanning all around with my 870 at the ready in my shoulder looking into the small brush piles along the sides of the creek, I had only taken four more steps when all of a sudden a “Splash” sound came from my right, I turned my head and saw two black objects shoot up from the water and burst into flight towards the west. I swung my body around one hundred and eighty degrees and identified them as two mallard ducks; I instinctively chose the bird to my right as I was taught. When there are several birds, pick only one out of the group and focus on it for the shot and if you are fast enough then aim for another. The one on my right was closer.

The duck was about fifteen yards away now and about four feet from the ground; I pushed my safety catch off and fired a single shot of #2 into the bird. The duck turned upside down and the wings seem to freeze and the duck fell down to the ground. The mallard flapped its wings a few more times and then lay still. I put my 870 on safe, ran over to the duck and hooked it onto my belt and headed back to the truck.

I made my way east a little further along the edge of the creek in case there were more ducks and turned north toward the truck. At the truck I unlocked the tailgate and laid my gear down along with the mallard and had another chat with my friend. A few minutes had gone by and I was getting ready to head home and call it a morning. There were three curious cows that came to the front of the truck not far from where we were standing, one of them began licking the headlight on the driver side.

This made us laugh as we continued to talk, when all of sudden my friend yelled out and ran frantically over to his tractor which began to smoke. There had been an electrical short in the wiring and there were flames coming from the motor. I ran over as well and noticed that the flames and smoke were intensifying.

We fought the fire for what seemed to be only a few seconds and had it out fairly quickly, allowing us to detach the battery connections. I suppose then that being in the right place at the right time applies to hunting and farming too.

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The ruffed grouse is without a doubt one of the best small game hunts that you can experience. They quite often make my heart skip a beat with the thumping of their wings when I set foot into the woodlands and I hope they will continue to do so for many years to come.

If you are unable to spot the ghostly bird found in the thickets of pine and aspen, he will surely make you jump with the beating of his wings as he flies away in a hurry into the depths of the forest. This is not to say that he will go far, since they tend to live within a very small range not exceeding a few acres. When this occurs if you are as quick as he, try to watch where he lands. Just like hares and other animals in the woods of eastern Canada, grouse have set pathways and these can be found by looking for droppings and feathers.

My experience tells me if you set out to find them and your eyes are unskilled, you will often walk right past their resting spot. The best way to find them is to “Still hunt” walk, stop, look and listen, then walk again. One trick that is used quite often to locate them is with the use of your fist and punches to the forest floor to make a drumming sound. If you are successful the male grouse will flap his wings and produce their distinct thumping sound allowing you to spot them.

Almost every time I have seen a male grouse on trails or the forest edges, either perched on an old stump or standing on fallen trees, there he was standing proud. They were not necessarily intimidated by my presence and as a result did not fly away immediately as long as they were not surprised.

Nature has adorned them with a great gift: The color of the feathers and this provides them with the ability to blend into their surroundings and quite easily in a sense become the foliage around them, a good example of this is the photograph I took in the forest.*

Grouse happens to be a bird that does not migrate and remains in eastern Canada during the winter months. To the Algonquin natives it is the bird that dives into the snow, a practice which protects them from the wind. Their feet are adapted so they can walk in deep snow like snowshoe hares.

Andi e izhaian pine? (Algonquin)

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