By Larry Dablemont
If you don’t see one close up, I don’t know that you would describe the male ruffed grouse as a beautiful bird. They are a little bit drab.
They are a bird of thick undergrowth in heavy forests. Before the time of intense logging of pines all through the Arkansas and Missouri Ozarks about 150 years ago, they thrived throughout these timbered hills. But the ruffed grouse can’t live with people and agriculture.
They aren’t wild and wary like the quail and the pheasant. They are birds that were once called fool hens because they trusted people too much. They often ran around on the shaded ground of the Ozark thickets right before the guns of hunters, or perhaps flew up into a nearby tree to look at them only a few yards away.
I never saw a ruffed grouse in the Ozarks, but I love to hunt them in Canada in the fall. This past October, with the northern woods ablaze in color, Tinker Helseth and I headed down an old gravel road in my pickup, in Northwest Ontario, to find one of those trails local Indians have made to run their ATVs back to small lakes where they trapped minnows to sell to bait shops.
You can’t hunt grouse by just setting out through the woods in Canada. A weasel can hardly get through those thickets! Grouse can, but you can’t. But they love those trails because some clover and undergrowth buds are easily found there. Gloria Jean and I, with my Labrador, Rambunctious, used to walk those trails. The Lab would find the birds just off the trails and he learned to circle them and flush them out into the open. The hunting was absolutely great, right out of some 1930s outdoor magazine. In three or four hours we always got a limit, even in those years when they went through the low part of their population cycles, which seems to occur every seven years.
But my Labrador I have now just turned a year of age and I didn’t take him to Canada this year. Next year perhaps, after he gets a lot of experience hunting ducks.
Tinker and I never made it to the trails I wanted to walk. Before we were a mile into the bush there was a ruffed grouse, feeding in the grass in the middle of the road. He just sat there, 50-yards away, so at Tinker’s urging I got out the shotgun, loaded it and walked toward the grouse. I got to within 25 yards of the darn bird and he wouldn’t fly. Walking into the heavy cover beside the road, he just disappeared. So I walked in behind him, ready for him to fly. He didn’t, he just disappeared.
I killed four grouse that morning by hunting them like they were rabbits back home. Only one grouse flew after he scurried into the underbrush and ran behind a rock. I shot at him and missed him! I shot the others as they scurried along into thickets or as just as they sat there and looked at me. One time I had to back up a few yards because he was so close and yet about to disappear into thick cover, logs, and boulders.
It reminded me of when I was a boy in the pool hall and I chastised Ol’ Jim for shooting two mallards with one shell as they sat on a farm pond. I told him that wasn’t sportin’! He looked at me disgustedly and said, “I shoot pool for sport, boy… I shoot mallards for eatin’!
I had a great time fishing and hunting back in Canada, but as far as grouse hunting, at least this last trip, I shot grouse for eatin’. Tinker thought that is what we were out there for. But next year I intend to take my young Lab and walk those trails like I did with the pup’s great grandfather years ago.
You might enjoy seeing my photos of Canadian grouse hunting over the years on this website…larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com.
Oh by the way, ruffed grouse are great eating, distinctively flavored. You just brown them in a buttered skillet, then cook them in a crockpot for hours, seasoned and simmered with mushroom and celery soup.
This is a little bit funny. Near Hermitage, Mo., there is a beautiful, tame fox with a collar on, obviously an escaped pet. I looks nothing like a grey or red fox, undoubtedly a cross between perhaps a red fox and arctic fox. What a beauty it is. I will put its photo on that blogspot of mine too.
Fur farms raise these foxes, making a lot of money from the furs. They sometimes sell the kits (babies). Game Wardens in the Hermitage area try to catch it but can’t. They tell folks they are sure it has distemper, which is ridiculous. Apparently, they have never seen and animal with distemper!
Anyways, no one will ever catch the animal even though it is domesticated, without knowing how to lure it into a live trap. You can only do that with some know-how and effort, with some sardines and a very well concealed cage-type live trap.
Next week I will tell you more about foxes, and why you cannot possibly make a pet out of any species of fox.
All my books and magazines can be seen on www.larrydablemont.com. They make economical Christmas gifts for those who like to read.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Larry Dablemont is an outdoor writer from Bolivar, Mo.