Channeling my inner Hobbit
Forest grouse hunting is an epic adventure every fall
By Scott Root
DWR regional conservation outreach manager
My favorite reason for hunting forest grouse (also called dusky and ruffed grouse) is because I absolutely love hiking through their majestic, forested home.
Forest grouse can be hard to spot. Their feathers and coloration provide excellent camouflage.
A magical setting
There's a distinct Lord of the Rings vibe to this hunt. As I wander through Utah's dense timber forests in search of "my precious" forest grouse, I often feel like a Hobbit lost in the dark, eerie depths of Fangorn or Mirkwood. The trees are immense and thick, and it's a setting that makes me intensely aware of the world and my place in it.
While hunting, my mind is on high alert, and I realize how absolutely quiet the timber forest has become. After I remember that I'm holding a shotgun and have bear spray in my backpack — and that trolls are fictional — I typically regain my composure.
And THAT is when it usually happens. A large and well-camouflaged dusky grouse will erupt into raucous flight within a few feet of me or my dog, which pretty much sends me into cardiac arrest. Somehow, I pull things together and take a fleeting shot at the fast-flying grouse.
The dark forest doesn't last forever. There are pockets where I emerge into stands of golden aspen — full of rippling light and beauty — and the hunt for both species of grouse continues. Those aspen groves are wonderful: I always feel happier and more peaceful after walking through the aspens.
Utah's forests are a gorgeous place to hunt in the fall!
In late September through mid-October, I like to branch out and hunt through a brilliant mix of oaks, maples and aspens. These trees are often close to each other and provide a colorful backdrop for photos, with or without grouse in hand. Grouse hunters enjoy some of the most breathtaking views in Utah!
A tasty meal
The other main perk of forest grouse hunting is one a Hobbit would definitely appreciate: A delicious meal!
Over the years, I’ve found that many people prefer the taste of forest grouse to chicken. They also love that forest grouse can be found in the forests of Utah and are not commercially grown.
There is very little difference in the look, texture and taste of the two forest grouse species, although the birds' diet can affect the taste a bit. My favorite method of preparing grouse (and other upland game birds) is to remove the breast meat and then marinate and refrigerate it overnight. I use my own version of what some people call the Manti marinade:
- 1 to 2 cups of 7 Up, Sprite or Fresca
- ½ cup of soy sauce
- ½ cup vegetable or canola oil
- ½ to ¼ teaspoon of garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon of horseradish (optional)
I cook the grouse on the grill, being careful not to overcook the meat, which can make it a bit chewy. Another great option is to use a Shake 'n Bake mix and just bake the grouse. There are many other delicious ways to cook grouse, and they are all great options. Grouse meat is very mild and easy to use as a substitute for any poultry recipe.
Ten tips for your hunt
I look forward to the forest grouse hunt every fall. Beautiful views and tasty meals make this one of the best hunts in Utah.
If you're heading out on a forest grouse hunt, here are some tips that can make it safer and more successful:
- Don't hunt alone, if possible.
- Hunter orange is a good option for safety during the fall big game hunts.
- Take a GPS unit, if possible, and mark your vehicle location before hunting (in case you get lost).
- A 12-gauge shotgun with 6-shot is a good shotgun setup.
- Hunting dogs are helpful for locating grouse, both before and after the shot.
- Take a backpack with water, snacks, a first-aid kit and other needed items.
- Water sources, pine ridgelines and berry patches are good places to hunt.
- Protective gear for dogs (like a vest) will help protect them from sharp deadfall tree branches and thick vegetation.
- For a more ethical and enjoyable experience, let the bird fly before shooting.
- For bag limits and season dates, see the Utah Upland Game and Turkey Hunting Guidebook.