Pete Zimowsky: Book shares the love of grouse hunting

‘My Mountain Grouse’ lists Craig Kulchak’s adventures in Idaho.

November 14, 2013 

To say Craig Kulchak knows every grouse-hunting spot in Idaho may not be that much of an exaggeration.

Kulchak’s lifelong pursuit in the Gem State has been upland bird hunting, with his sights on ruffed, blue (dusky) and Franklin grouse.

He writes about the experience of the woods and mountains, his setters and the solitary upland birds in his newly published book, “My Mountain Grouse.” The book is part of his ongoing series about upland hunting.

“Mountain Grouse” shares the adventures of hunting he has had with his three sons and four generations of their Ryman English setters.

It’s also about fine guns and returning to special hunting spots during more than 30 years of hunting.

His adventures take the reader through forests as close as Bogus Basin to the mountains around McCall and Cascade, the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and over in the Tetons.

I hunted with Kulchak back in 1996 when his first book, “The Creek, An Upland Adventure,” came out.

We hit one of the ridges near Bogus and, sure enough, found birds. We experienced a dog on point, the fluttering takeoff of the bird and a successful shot.

I’ve been a lifelong grouse hunter, too, first starting out with a single-shot 12-gauge H&R shotgun on ruffed grouse.

Kulchak, of Meridian, said grouse hunting has been good this year. I’ve found the same to be true. Other hunters have been successful, too. Conditions were good last winter for the birds’ survival and so were conditions for nesting and raising broods.

Not every year is good. Bird populations can be cyclical mostly because of winter kill and poor weather during nesting. But that doesn’t stop grouse hunters from enjoying the high country in the fall pursuing a revered game bird.

Kulchak enjoys what he calls a traditional hunting style following behind his setter listening for the bell on the dog’s collar. When that bell stops, it means the dog is on point.

Although his new book is more of a romantic read than a how-to, Kulchak knows hunters will enjoy it. That’s because Kulchak knows the birds and how to hunt them.

When we hunted together, he emphasized the need for a hunting journal, something I never forgot.

He records the date of the hunt, time of the day, hours hunted, weather conditions and the number of birds encountered, put on point and retrieved.

“That log can be deadly,” he once said.

I found that to be one of the best hunting tips I’ve ever used.

Kulchak said if he bagged birds at 3 p.m. on a certain day at a certain spot, he can go back to the same spot at the same time of the day and see birds.

Knowing the birds is important, too. When he cleans birds, he looks for what they are eating. A grouse’s crop is often filled with berries. Find the berries and you’ll find birds, he said.

I’ve used those tips during the years in my pursuit of grouse, and they make a difference.

Although Kulchak finds birds, he is adamant about limiting his take.

If you come upon a brood of forest grouse, as is so often the case, he believes that hunters shouldn’t take them all. Leaving most of the birds in the brood ensures grouse for next year.

It was fun to talk grouse hunting with Kulchak the other day while interviewing him about the new book. Here are some more of his thoughts on grouse hunting:

• If you don’t find grouse in an area where you are hunting, head to water.

• Look for open patches of ground in timber country where the birds will be feeding. It has to be near dense cover and water.

• If you find elk and deer in an area, you’ll usually find grouse.

• Look for those willowy areas and aspen stands for ruffed grouse.

• For the best-tasting bird, it’s best to hunt blue and Franklin grouse early in the season. As winter approaches, they migrate to higher elevations and start feeding on evergreen needles and taste sort of like turpentine.

• Responsible timber harvest helps the birds and improves habitat. It opens dense forests to more brushy areas where birds find seeds and insects.

• See more about the 152-page book, which features 30 pen-and-ink drawings and 29 black-and-white photographs from the author’s personal gunning journals, at mymountaingrouse.com.

Good hunting.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

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