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Finding and Hunting Dusky Grouse in the West

Finding and Hunting Dusky Grouse in the West

A Labrador Retriever with a dusky grouse.

A guide to finding and hunting the dusky grouse

Short of having a heart attack, there is little more exciting than chasing dusky grouse deep in the mountains while the aspens are showing off their colors. Big, explosive and oftentimes erratic, these birds have hands down become my favorite game animals to chase. Add in some working bird dogs and I’m pretty sure this is why I was put here on this earth.

Fun at times but equally frustrating at others, finding them when they don’t want to be found can have grey hairs popping out of our heads prematurely. I’ve put some thoughts together here to help us hang on to a few more of those thinning hairs.

Find escape routes and find the grouse

Food, shelter and water required to find Dusky grouse can be found in most places, so it doesn’t narrow down the geography for us. These elements are a requirement, but escape routes seem to be the least available so it’s a great place to start.

Elevation is king when it comes to finding escape routes. Primarily, grouse want to get off the ground and away from their predators, such as coyotes. Their best bet? Get up to a tree branch as quickly as possible. The steeper the terrain, the easier it is for them to do just that. If there’s a little cliff that they could hop off of and be up in a tree branch with three flaps of their wings, we can bet they will be close by.

We must look for escape routes and places that put us between them and the trees in which they want to seek safety. My dogs now know that when I drop below a cliff or steep area, that means they need to work the higher section. It has worked so well that it is now deeply ingrained in their bird sense to do this.

a dusky grouse

Reverse migration of the dusky grouse

A Dusky grouse is an odd fellow. Instead of doing the sensible thing and working their way down in elevation when the winter decides to show its might, they flip the weather “the wing” and move uphill. Seems like evolution should have snuffed out these birds long ago. But there is a method to their madness. Food, plain and simple.

As the grasshoppers and berries die out at the lower elevations, grouse make their way up in elevation to find calories. Evergreen trees offer them both food and shelter when the going gets tough.

So putting two and two together, this means we will be hunting up higher as the season goes on. At the September opener we will be concentrating in the edges around aspen and sagebrush. As November hits we will be up higher in the pines.

Find the elevation they’re currently at and stick with that for the time being. As we hunt later in the year we will be moving up.

Find the dusky food by the seasons

This section coincides with the previous, but we’ll get into a little more detail here.

Grouse are the vacuum cleaners of the forest. I’ve found leaves, insects, berries, branches and spent .22 casings in their crops just to mention a few. They eat everything!

This being said they will try to start with what gives them the most nourishment. In September they will be concentrated where the grasshoppers and Mormon crickets are hopping around. We should look around the sagebrush areas that butt up against aspens. Currant and other berry bushes are often producing at this time of year, as well. Seek those out. Trickling streams can also be a gold mine as it’s usually hot this time of year and they like to wet their beak at these tiny little streams.

In October we work our way into the thicker aspens. Oftentimes they are eating the aspen leaves and any leftover berries. In November they will usually be up in the pines. Most of the other food sources are long gone and they will be hiding in or around pine trees both for their food sources as well as their shelter.

a male dusky grouse fan

Online scouting for the dusky grouse

We are not as crafty as the Native Americans once were and our lives probably don’t depend on killing a grouse for survival. Because of this we are at a disadvantage. But you know what the Native Americans didn’t have? Google Earth.

Use it. Abuse that time at work by poring over potential grouse areas. Look for steep mountains with small creeks running down their sides. Look for aspen glens interrupting large swaths of sagebrush. Look for areas that look “grousey” and mark them on your GPS as potential areas to hunt. I’ve found more hunting meccas this way than any other way.

Then we must get our feet on the ground and get after them! There isn’t a prettier place to be than in the grouse woods come hunting season. Crisp air, golden aspens and enough exercise to keep your heart doctor happy. Get out there and enjoy!

View Comments (2)
  • Fred, what time of day do you like to start hunting Dusky grouse? What time do you stop? Is there a time of day that it is a waste of time to be pursuing them?

    • I usually start my climbs looking for these regal birds right at sunup. I have found by late morning, the birds are less active and harder to find.

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