The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 23, 2014

A grouse hunt before the next snowstorm

By Clint Ferguson
For The Register-Herald

BECKLEY — Old man winter has definitely made his presence known around here so far this year. Last week, the first real heavy, deep, snow fell covering the hills and hollows with up to almost two feet in some places. Needless to say, it’s been hard to do anything outdoors other than shovel out.

Grouse, rabbit, raccoon, fox and bobcat seasons are still on until Feb. 28, but the opportunities to get out there have been slim, with bitter cold temperatures and snow constantly covering the ground. With a short break in the weather at the beginning of the month, Sammy and I decided to hit the grouse woods before the snow piled up again, which I’m glad we did.

Although conditions weren’t ideal, with the temperatures in the lower 20’s and a couple inches of snow on the ground, it was better than below zero and a frozen landscape. I had talked with my one buddy the day before and he told me a couple spots where he had seen grouse during deer season so we decided to head there.

The first hollow we hit was an old clearcut that was starting to revert back to open forest. I used to deer hunt this same hollow almost 20 years ago, not long after they cut the timber in there. and it was so thick in places you could hardly walk through it. Of course the big bucks liked to seek shelter there during buck season when the rifles started cracking. I always found huge buck rubs and saw a couple nice ones but it was too thick for a clean shot.

When we walked into what was once a brier and sapling covered hollow I was amazed to see how different it looked with bigger trees and open timber.  I shouldn’t have been surprised because that’s what it should look like after all those years with responsible logging practices. Timber is a renewable resource and this stand will be ready to cut again soon.

That’s one thing that has changed over the last 15 to 20 years here in West Virginia is that not as much logging is going on now as back then. Sammy talked about how it was nothing to flush 30 to 40 grouse in a day and kill your limit of four. I remember seeing a lot more as well, but that was before I met Sammy and started grouse hunting.

“The good old days,” Sammy called them as we walked down the hollow. Grouse and other wildlife thrive in these cut over areas as they provide cover and browse. As we neared the road a grouse took off to my left out of a hemlock stand. By the time I got my gun on it, it was too far away and all I could do was watch it glide over the ridge.

Unfortunately, the dogs went down the right side and missed the bird. I looked at Sammy and said, “Well, he wasn’t lying. This is exactly where he said he saw them,” referring to my one buddiy’s good information. We moved on and worked the edge of a newer clearcut, but all I found was somebodies arrow from a missed shot during bow season. I asked my buddy if it was his and he said no, but he knew the fellow that was hunting there. I told him that his arrow was leaning against a hemlock tree where I left it.

After that we walked back to the truck and ate lunch as we drove to another spot I wanted to try. Like the other place it had been several years since I had been there and I didn’t know what we would find. We parked and walked through some open timber before finding the good stuff.

I was starting to have my doubts about this location, and then we came into a thick clearcut similar to what I remember that one hollow looking like all those years ago. “This looks real good,” Sammy said as we continued along.  We came around the hill into another hollow that looked ideal. There were several hemlocks and a small running stream coming out of it.

“If there isn’t a grouse in here, there aren’t any around,” Sammy said.

No longer did he say that when Jack, Sammy’s almost 15-year-old English Setter, suddenly stopped and went on point. It was awesome watching him stand motionless, with his tail straight out, staring intently at the hemlocks in front of him. I couldn’t see very far due to the hemlocks, so I eased towards the road and got ready.

About that time I heard a grouse take off, and when I looked up, I saw it sailing out of the hollow. I shouldered my shotgun and followed the bird before squeezing the trigger, only to miss. Sammy also shot above me but it was at another grouse that was flying right at him.  He said it was literally coming right at him and got within 5 feet before flying straight up in the air.

A third grouse took off but I only heard it.Just when I thought all of the action was over, a fourth grouse erupted out of a small hemlock sapling not 20 yards away.  It flew straight up and out in the road and I couldn’t have asked for a better shot.  I squeezed the trigger and the grouse kept going. Yep, I missed again.    

So without harming the grouse population any, Sammy and I decided to call it a day. Jack was getting tired, and it was fun to just see him hunting, considering how old he is. We flushed five, which can be considered good nowadays in the grouse woods. The thaw has come and the snow has melted off for now, so I’m hoping to get back out there for one last hunt before the season ends.