Hunting season for forest grouse is under way in Idaho, and one of the best ways to hunt the birds is to lie down on your back in the mountains and look up.
I’m not joshing. I don’t know how many times I’ve hiked all through the mountains and not seen a feather, let alone a grouse. Then I’d stop for lunch in a grove of evergreens, kick back and look up at the sky.
On one September hunt I saw a grouse looking right down at me from branches about 30 feet high. It was right there all the time I was eating lunch.
Another time I spotted the silhouette of a grouse in a fir tree while scanning the treeline from a logging road.
BIRDS HOLD TIGHT
The best one was on a hiking trail in the Sawtooths. My wife and I stopped for lunch and sat in the area for about 20 minutes talking and playing with the dogs.
The moment we stood up and started hiking again, a grouse flushed from about 20 yards away. The bird held tight all that time.
The dogs weren’t doing their job of sniffing out birds. They were just interested in our sandwiches.
OK, I’ll admit that the mottled gray/brown plumage of forest grouse makes them difficult to see in the branches of fir and pine trees. You can look right at them and not see them.
Sometimes trying to really zero in on the silhouette of the birds helps you spot them.
The dogs do help when they’re not interested in lunch. When they go crazy sniffing the clumps of evergreen at the bottom of the trees, you know grouse have been around.
So fall-hunting action has begun. Forest grouse season opened Thursday. I can’t believe hunting season is already here.
Idaho has a variety of forest grouse that are native to the state. Spruce grouse and dusky (blue) grouse like pine and fir forests in the mountains. Ruffed grouse, which are smaller, like the aspen terrain near rivers and streams.
You’ve got to love hiking mountain trails and covering a lot of ground if you want to hunt forest grouse. Their numbers can be good, but they are pretty spread out.
You put in a lot of miles before crossing paths with the birds. Idaho has millions of acres of mountain forests, and it’s like looking for a needle in the haystack.
Still, the lure of the high country in the fall is enough to get you to carry a shotgun while hiking.
I talked with grouse expert Richard C. Renstrom this week. He is the author of “Understated Elegance: A Story of the Ruffed Grouse in the Central Idaho Mountains.”
Renstrom keeps close tabs on grouse and figures the birds had a good nesting season last spring.
That doesn’t mean instant good hunting. It takes three or four years of good nesting to help bird populations, he said.
At least it is a fairly decent prediction for hunting this fall.
There’s also another choice for bird hunting this weekend. The dove season opened Saturday, and I’ve been seeing a lot of birds staging over the last week. They’re gathering to fly south and usually do so early in the hunting season.
Ed Bottum, manager of the Boise River Wildlife Management Area with Idaho Fish and Game, believes it’s going to be a good season for doves.
He also said nesting looked good for valley quail and chukars. The hunting season for those birds, which hopefully will be good, will open Sept. 15.
So I’m going for a few hikes in the mountains this weekend, and you’ll see me relaxing in the forest looking toward the sky.
Hopefully, I’ll spot a grouse looking back down at me.
Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors
Statesman outdoor writer Pete Zimowsky writes a column every other Sunday and every week in Thursday’s Idaho Outdoors.