The annual grouse hunting season opened on Tuesday. One of the first bird hunting seasons of the fall, grouse can be very challenging birds to hunt. Or, they can be incredibly easy. It just depends on the situation, and how sporting you want to make it.
I have some very fond memories of grouse hunting with my dad in the late 1960’s. I was one of those kids who wanted to go hunting well before I was big enough to do so. Even when I wasn’t yet old enough to carry a shotgun, I would accompany my dad on hunts whenever he would let me tag along.
Finally, after getting my hunter’s education certificate in a PE class at Wilson Junior High (long gone are those days), I was ready to become a licensed hunter. That summer I had worked hard to earn and save the $20 I needed to purchase my half of a 16-gauge single shot shotgun. The gun cost $40, and the deal I had with my dad was, if I earned half the money, he’d pony up the rest and we would go down to Jed’s Sportsland and buy a shotgun for me.
We took the little shotgun out once before the season started and my dad threw some clay pigeons for me. I don’t remember hitting many of the clay birds, but I do remember the little 16-gauge walloped my shoulder with a pretty good kick.
“Don’t worry about the kick,” Dad told me after I complained about the recoil of the shotgun. “When a bird gets up you will never even notice it.”
Of course, he was right, as I would learn that first Saturday in September in 1968.
I remember how excited I was when my dad told me we were going to go hunting for grouse.
Today, I like to get up in the mountains and be in grouse country at daylight, but my dad was a little more casual. As I think back on it, he had plenty of things on his plate, including running a business and providing for a growing family, so just being able to get away at all was, at times, a challenge.
On this day, we left Yakima about two o’clock in the afternoon and headed up onto the back side of Cleman Mountain.
My dad grew up in Naches, and helped the Longmire family with their sheep operation on Cleman Mountain, so he knew the country well. In an old Jeep Wagoneer, we drove up one of the canyons. I don’t remember exactly which canyon it was, but I believe today it is no longer accessible by vehicle.
About halfway up the mountain, on a curve in the road, my dad stopped the Jeep and said “there’s some grouse.”
Now, as any upland hunter knows, if you did this with a pheasant or quail, the birds would either run of fly off before you had a chance to even get out and load your shotgun. Grouse are not quite as wary. At least these grouse weren’t.
My dad reminded me one more time about all the safety issues of hunting with a shotgun. Then, we got out, loaded our shotguns and walked to where we had last seen the grouse.
Everything went from zero to about 120 in a matter of a second as four grouse exploded out of the grass. I’d been shooting a BB gun at starlings and other birds since I was eight, and was a pretty good shot, but this was totally new. Amazingly, when I shot, one of the birds fell. A second later I saw another bird fall to my dad’s shot.
“Did you get one?” he asked.
I told him I had and he asked if I knew where it had fallen. When I confirmed that, he told me to go get it, while he went to get the bird he had dropped.
I took about five steps to where my grouse had fallen, and it jumped up again and flew into a tree. My dad had told me before the hunt that we wouldn’t be shooting any grouse on the ground or from a tree, so I didn’t know what to do. He asked me if I thought that was the bird I had hit, and I told him it jumped up from where I had seen the one fall.
“Okay, reload and go ahead and shoot it,” he said.
I did and I did. Bango, the team of Phillips and Phillips had two birds in the bag. It would be grouse for supper that night.
My dad was very excited for me, but not as excited as I was. Little did he know that on that Saturday afternoon in early September, 52 years ago, a fire would be ignited in his 12-year-old son that has done nothing but grow.
There have been very few years since then that I haven’t gone up into the Cascades and hunted for grouse at least once in September. Come this weekend, I will be up there again. And I will fondly relive and remember that very first hunt when I shot my very first gamebird with the man who got me started doing what I enjoy so much.
• Rob Phillips is an award-winning freelance outdoor writer who has written the Northwest Sportsman column for over 25 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org