The annual Pennsylvania late grouse hunting season opened on Dec. 14 and ran through the 24 if anyone still had enough energy left to be afield after the deer season.
I did not participate in grouse hunting season as I believe it’s best to give them a break due to the downward trend they’ve been enduring recently.
That trend is the result of the West Nile virus that’s been detrimental to their population for several years.
But since I spent a lot of time afield in my pursuit of wild game this season, I had the opportunity to observe grouse on numerous occasions.
I observed more than usual, which makes me wonder if they are on a rebound in my area of the state, especially in those areas around old clear cuts where there are dense patches of beech brush.
That’s where I had the chance to watch the majority of grouse strut around as if they hadn’t a care in the world. Their actions could fool you into thinking they are easy to hunt except when you actually are hunting them. Then they become a real challenge. It brought to mind some very fond memories of my youth and my first attempts at hunting grouse.
Probably the most memorable hunt involved the taking of my very first grouse when I was 13 years old. It definitely wasn’t taken in what you would consider the classical sense of bird hunting.
I was actually out during the later part of the small game season in pursuit of rabbits and squirrels.
I was sneaking along the edge of a woodlot next to an opening on a hillside that held a large grove of thorn apple trees with a single shot 16 gauge shotgun in hand.
All of a sudden only 10 yards away, a grouse darted from beneath a thorn apple tree and began to take flight. It rose to about five feet off the ground as I aimed and fired and was pleasantly surprised to watch it drop. I found the bird lying still when I reached the spot where it had dropped.
I remember admiring its distinctive coloration of black, brown and white with yellow feet and the little crown at the back of its head. It lay on the dead brown fall grass with numerous small red thorn apples scattered about. It had been feeding on the apples, I discovered.
On closer examination I found several stuffed in its crop which was slightly bulged out.
I guess that’s when grouse hunting got a hold on me. After that, I spent quite a bit of time in pursuit of them over the years, Birds were taken and birds were completely missed, with more of the latter being the case.
When those wily birds take flight, it seems like everything goes from zero to about a hundred in a few seconds flat. Even as my shot improved over time, they would still have the advantage as I would be startled as they exploded from their camouflaged hideouts and sailed away.
But the memories of those younger years of adventure are enough to satisfy my urge to hunt them.
Instead, I’ll give them a fighting chance to rebound as I spend my time taking pictures of them parading about doing their crazy antics. It’s only fitting that we give the state bird a fighting chance at survival.