Blue Grouse

I didn’t do much blue grouse hunting until I moved to Sheridan Wyoming in 2007. The big horn mountains have a good population and they are in areas that are great for the dogs even if the dogs have a little extra power. I would find a few in the mountains of Idaho while big game hunting, but I never went hunting just for blue grouse. Most of them I found in Idaho were at very high elevations and they were pretty elusive. Most of the ones in Wyoming are dumb as a rock. In the fall of 2015 we moved to western Washington and I started to hunt them in the thick rain forest along the coast. The ones along the coast are supposed to be the Sooty blue grouse. From what I can tell the Sooty seem to be a bit smaller than the dusky blue grouse and are darker. The ones in Idaho also seemed to be a little different than the ones in Wyoming. I’m sure all are close to the same species. I just remember them as being a different color of blue from state to state. The only problem I can see with blue grouse hunting in Idaho or Wyoming is you have a chance to encounter a pack of wolves. In the Big Horns the wolves seem to “disappear” shortly after you hear about a pack getting established. Having had a dog killed by a wolf I know a wolf pack is probably going to kill any other canine that they come across so it’s just best to not take a chance if it’s not necessary.

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A blue grouse male that flushed up in a tree.

After I started to hunt blue grouse with the GWP’s in Wyoming I found them in many different areas, but never at very low elevations. I usually only hunt them during the month of September because it is still warm enough the rattlesnakes will be out in the lower elevations where I hunt huns and sharp tail grouse. Most of the time by the 1st of October the snow will be too deep to get into the areas where the blue grouse live and they will probably be up in a evergreen tree. I have read that biologists have tracked blue grouse with gps collars and some of the grouse will spend all winter in the same tree. During the late summer and early fall when I’m scouting for them or hunting them I will find them in open grassy hillsides, thick sage brush hills, very steep rocky outcroppings, and in the thick timber. I think I have found them just about everywhere. The one thing that does seem to be a constant is they are never too far from water even if it’s just a small spring.

Hunting them in the thick forest of western Washington is vastly different than hunting them in the Rocky Mountains of Idaho and Wyoming. The forest in western Washington can be almost impossible to hunt. The vegetation can be extremely thick and while the hills are not real tall, they can be steep. When you factor in the amount of deadfall navigating the forest can be a real challenge. I have found if you stay on the ridges it is your best chance to work the country. The grouse on the steep side hills are probably going to be breeding stock for the next generation because it’s going to be difficult to get to them. I have only hunted them with experienced GWP’s and I use every thing I can to help locate them. I have the tracking collars, bells, and I put florescent orange duct tape on them for visibility. The forest can be quite dark even during the middle of the day. I wouldn’t let the dog get more than maybe 200 yards away from me, and when the forest is quiet you can hear the bells for close to 300 yards. The bells don’t seem to be an issue for the grouse. Once your dog gets one locked down you don’t have a lot of shooting lanes so you need to be ready for a snap shot. I think the best GWP for blue grouse in the thick forest is going to be one of the bulldozers that goes pretty slow and can power through anything.

Ralph in the dark forest of western Washington

Ralph in the dark forest of western Washington

In the Rocky Mountains I like to take young GWP’s into areas where I have found blue grouse in years past. Once I find an area with grouse the grouse seem to be there year after year. If I know of a good area for the grouse the young dogs might not have to work real hard to find grouse, and if the grouse are young I can work the young dogs a few times before the grouse make it to the tree tops or fly out of sight before landing. I have had many times where a grouse would just stand right in front of a dog bobbing its head up and down. For the young GWP that is usually too much temptation and they will break point, but for a dog in field trial training that is about as close to a pen raised bird as you will ever get with a wild bird. I’m sure a dog can catch young grouse and I never run young dogs on young grouse.
Blue grouse can be great for an older dog as well. If you have a good grouse area that isn’t too steep I would take an old dog in the area. Sometimes the old dogs will forget they can’t power up and down mountains anymore and they will overwork themselves. The blue grouse can offer them an easy run similar to a pheasant hunt on flat lands. Even though I like hunting with bigger running dogs, I think in most cases a close working dog will be better for blue grouse, especially if you are hunting some thick timber or timber edges. Even though sometimes you can get into some pretty steep dry country that might resemble chukar country if you are where blue grouse live you will be close to water. If it is hot and dry a GWP will need to be able to find water pretty often. Blue grouse won’t fly way down a mountain to get water like a chukar, but I have flushed older blue grouse that have gone a few hundred yards down a mountain to escape.
I think blue grouse are probably the second best eating bird, behind spruce grouse. If you shoot a young blue grouse that has been eating berries in the fall they are very good eating. The sharp tail grouse, and sage grouse both might fly great distances and they have very dark well-muscled chest meat. The blue grouse spend most of the time walking around or just flying up in a tree. Their breast meat is very light colored and tender.
If you ever get a chance to take a GWP hunting blue grouse in the mountains out west you and dog will both enjoy the hunt. It’s probably never going to be a hunt where you encounter dozens of birds a day and if you get a limit that is a good day.

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