The trials of a new grouse hunter: Article 1
Author: Quinton Merrill
Instagram Handle: winninquinnin
My experiences with hunting grouse are just not there. To say the very least, I have had
equal success with my 01’ Cherokee on the back roads of a natural gas field than under the swing shot of my 20-gauge pump, but that is beside the point. When I decided to make the switch from pheasant training my 7-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer to hunting the ghost bird of the aspen forest, there was a lot of confusion on both ends. First, my GSP Payton was still shrugging off the five years of limited hunting while I attended university, and the twenty-five pounds I had to take off her because grandma insisted that, “she needs her morning cookie from grandpa.”
The fact of the matter is that in Michigan you can hope for two things as a bird hunter; three things as an optimistic one. If you’re an optimist you hope to have 1) a great season of flushing woodcock, 2) getting after a handful of grouse, and 3) crossing your fingers that habitat restoration efforts improve the habitat of the ring-necked pheasant. However, if you’re looking for success as an upland game bird hunter in Michigan’s current situation, you will learn to lean towards the frustrations that come with chasing the timber doodles and ghost birds through the thickets of Northern Michigan.
Although eager to show off her potential as a true NAVHDA dog, Payton was more familiar with the pen-raised birds we got in her first year, and the occasional “wild” bird that walked left onto our property instead of right back onto the hunt club’s land. Grouse hunting was totally new territory for the both of us. Here I was with a dog trained for the thick scent of a long-tail when we had so much more potential going after the more available woodcock and ruffed grouse in the area. The decision was made to focus more of our hunting hours this season in finding the upland game birds we had readily available in Michigan. Despite the initial confusion, Payton took this switch like a true GSP would. The biggest challenge was reining her in from her wide, out of sight working range (my own doing) and teaching her that more success would come if she worked tight to me within the brush. I had no idea what I was doing, but somehow, she did.
A sense of pride washed over me when she locked up on point for her first woodcock, and I swelled even more when she pinned a grouse so hard under a log that I could have touched it with the end of my barrel. Like a duck to water, like stink on shit, or a pointer to birds, Payton was starting to enjoy our hunting expeditions more and more, despite the previous open field trials we had prepared for. We took advantage of the chances we did get, however few and far between that may have been, but the later challenge came with hitting the damn things.
For starters, grouse are not of this world. They were sent down to earth with the blueprints of a fighter jet with the same capability of breaking the sounds barrier. If I wasn’t knocking my barrel into the trunk of a young aspen, I was tangled up in a combination of autumn olive, grape vines, or some other bramble-type bush that gave the bird the advantage. Here I applaud the patience of my dog, because she never gave up on me after a missed shot. Her enthusiasm to find the nonexistent downed bird was almost insulting and was usually followed by a “no bird” command. In that moment of seemingly missed opportunity, I am reminded why I have such a love for hunting with these dogs.
When everything finally does come together Payton and I both have a lot of fun. The forgiving nature of woodcock gives us a chance to stay motivated about hunting birds since they don’t travel far after flushing them from one area. However, our true goal is to hunt more grouse. Our pursuit of all that Michigan has to offer for us bird hunters continues, perhaps not too far from the occasional flush of a ring-neck that spends his winters in a pocket of meadow marsh habitat. Until that day comes we’ll be sticking to our new goal of chasing the ever-elusive ruffed grouse.