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Gaga for Grouse

Ruffed grouse have alway held a special place in my hunting heart. Until moving west the majority of my time afield was spent chasing them. In Ontario the rifle deer season was a scant two weeks while the bird season went on for a few months, and I took every opportunity I could to walk them up. Shotgun in hand I would put on kilometres; sun, rain, sleet or snow for the chance to see one wildly flush.

There were times I would leave work and drive an hour to our hunting lease for a quick hunt before dark. Partridge as my father and uncles referred to them were the only thing they hunted besides whitetail deer and moose, no doubt there’s a deep rooted psychological thingamajigger from this that makes me revere them as a game species. When I was lucky enough to connect on a bird it would be dinner that night, it was a rare occasion when one would make it to the freezer.

This past spring while looking for bears I ran across more grouse than I have in the past few years. Always making a mental note to where they were for fall it didn’t dawn on me that the population cycle might be moving up. It’s common knowledge within most bird hunters and biologists that ruffed grouse populations are cyclical, moving through seven to ten year boom and bust periods. For the past few seasons I’ve had to work hard, walk miles to hunt up a few birds and this fall has been something different all together.

Opening day my wife and I spent the afternoon walking old trails in one of my favourite bird spots. A kilometre or so up and back on two grown over old skid roads, scared up over half a dozen birds, taking two home in the game vest. Last year in these same places I’d have to walk further, hunt harder, spend more time trying to see one. A fall of hard hunting left me with more ruffed grouse in the freezer than I’ve ever had, valuable, healthy meals for the winter ahead, reducing our need for factory farmed chicken and a sense of satisfaction and contentment that is comforting.

See you on the water or the mountain.

-Matthew Mallory


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