Friday, 17 August 2012 13:30
If you or your kids are just getting started in upland game hunting, you might be facing a dilemma—which of Utah's many upland game species are best for a beginner to hunt?
Dusky grouse are found on ridges that have spruce and fir trees. Focus your efforts between 7,000 to 9,500 feet in elevation, and look for shrubs that have berries on them.
Photo by Bill Bates
Ring-necked pheasants are Utah's most popular upland game bird, but they're found mostly on private land. You'll have to get written permission to hunt them there.
Chukar partridge, on the other hand, are found almost entirely on public land. But the steep, rocky terrain chukars live in can make hunting chukars a challenge for the beginning hunter.
Forest grouse, though, are a different story. Forest grouse are found almost entirely on public land in wooded areas across Utah's mountain ranges. Even though they're found at higher elevations, the stands of aspen trees and pines in which forest grouse live don't always have steep slopes. The land is relatively flat compared to where chukars live.
Just like pheasants and chukars, forest grouse provide an exciting and fun hunting experience. And they taste great.
Two forest grouse species live in Utah—dusky grouse (formerly called blue grouse) and ruffed grouse. You'll often find grouse near water sources in the mountains that have lush vegetation and berries for the grouse to eat.
Hunting forest grouse
Many forest grouse are taken by deer or elk hunters (using archery tackle or shotguns) as the hunters encounter them in the woods or along a mountain road.
Dusky grouse are also called "fool hen" because they're often seen along dirt roads in the mountains, and they don't always run quickly from people. That makes them an easy target while they're on the ground or after they've flown into a nearby tree.
Rather than take them on the ground or in a tree, avid grouse hunters prefer to let the birds flush and take them while they're flying.
Both grouse species offer a great hunting opportunity for young hunters. At times, the grouse will flush out of the forest vegetation right under your feet. When they erupt into flight, their strong, loud wing beats are sure to startle you, even if you're among the calmest of hunters.
Other times, you'll see grouse walking slowly on the forest floor. This gives a young hunter plenty of time to prepare for a shot once the bird flies.
Because grouse are commonly seen walking along the forest floor, dogs are not always required to locate the birds.
Because vegetation in forests can be wet through much of the morning, a comfortable pair of waterproof boots is recommended when hunting forest grouse. Pants that repel water are recommended too.
A backpack with water, snacks, a small first aid kit and a flashlight is a must before heading into the woods. A global positioning system (GPS) is also highly recommended.
"Getting lost is a very real possibility in a heavily forested area," says Scott Root, regional conservation outreach manager for the Division of Wildlife Resources. "Always mark your vehicle's location with a waypoint and have extra batteries (for your GPS unit) in your backpack to ensure that you don't get lost."
As a precaution, some hunters also invest in a can of bear spray. "Once these items are in your backpack," Root says, "the rest of your hunt can be very relaxing and enjoyable."
Utah's forest grouse season runs Sept. 1–Dec. 31. The daily bag limit is four birds.
"Please be aware that other hikers, campers and hunters will be using the same areas in the fall," Root says. "Please give these recreationalists plenty of space as you're hunting grouse."
More information about hunting forest grouse—including a description of where the grouse live in Utah and information about the birds—is available in the 2012–2013 Utah Upland Game & Turkey Guidebook.
The free guidebook is available at wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks.
If you do a search on the Internet, you'll also find plenty of websites that have useful information about hunting forest grouse.
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