If you’ve spent much time in the subalpine forests of the Pacific Coast or in the Rocky Mountains, you’ve undoubtedly heard a low-sounding, “whuuump”, echoing through the trees. This distinct sound only heard in the spring, is a male grouse using a special wing beat to attract a female. On the west coast, you’re likely to run into sooty grouse, while in the Rockies it will most likely be a dusky grouse. Be sure to brush up on your grouse identification because there are actually quite a few varieties and many are managed differently than sooty and dusky grouse, particularly sage grouse, which in many places are in decline.
In my opinion, grouse are some of the tastiest game birds you can find in the Western United States. Eating a diet that largely consists of berries, their meat is mild, tender, and I think one of the best options for introducing wild game to picky eaters.
The archery season typically starts at the end of August or early September. By that time, the grouse are done with their noisy mating rituals and are actually fairly difficult to locate. The best way to find grouse is by putting in the miles, walking through “grousy” terrain. Try early mornings and evenings in areas that have water, shade, and plenty of berries. Grouse seem to have a particular affinity for clearings with tons of deadfall in them. The downed trees and logs give them plenty of cover while they forage. Keep your ears open for soft clucking that sounds suspiciously like chickens.
I personally have a rule that when using archery equipment, I only shoot grouse that are on the ground. Your typical grouse encounter is usually sub 20 yards and even with small game tips, I often get full pass-throughs on these soft-bodied birds and grew tired of losing arrows into the trees.
Grouse are more resilient than they appear and given their natural camouflage, easily disappear in the underbrush. If you find yourself in a group of grouse that give you multiple shot opportunities, make sure you recover each grouse before taking another shot.
Whether you’re using a shotgun or bow, grouse hunting is a great reason to get out into the mountains and bring home some high-quality meat.