By Stacey Sutherlin
Year after year, Oregon upland game bird season kicks off in full swing as of September 1st. I always look forward to season opener in hopes that I will finally successfully harvest a mature grouse.
Each year my husband, Chris, always has the best success when it comes to grouse hunting; he has even shot a few out from under me, but in all fairness it was because I was trying to set myself up for that perfect harvest.
I would always spook the grouse or lose my opportunity in preparing for the perfect harvest. I tend to leave no room for error and I have often let my OCD get in the way of my success in harvesting one of these smart little creatures. As a hunter I am always focused on ethics, following all the laws of the hunt along with safety.
Grouse can be tricky to harvest. They tend to be pretty alert and they are smart! If you see their head pop up, they are on high alert, you better be ready to pull the trigger or prepare to wait for the next grouse you see.
Often times when they pop their head up, their next move is to take flight. Usually they fly to a nearby tree and if you don’t get your shot in on their flight up they will land on a branch and you can usually sneak up and make the harvest, key word being sneak! However, if they spook a second time they are bound to bust and fly deep into the timber and you’ve missed your shot completely on that bird!
We were hunting on the last day of our archery elk season. I was sick with a nasty cold, but I was determined to give it my all that season up until the very last light of that final day, miserable or not.
I spotted a lone ruffed grouse on an old grassy side skid road feeding as we headed to our elk hunting grounds. As Chris and I drove, I told him that there was a grouse over on the skid road. I was already full of excitement.
We drove down the road about 50 yards, pulled off and parked. I got myself and the shotgun ready, it was an old single shot 20g. I told Chris I wanted to attempt this solo. This meant I had one shot to harvest this grouse and Chris wasn’t going to have the opportunity to shoot it out from under me.
The pressure weighed pretty heavy on myself with the task at hand.
I was determined. This was my grouse. This was my day!
I snuck up, as stealthy as I could be, to where the grouse was in sight and I had a clear shot. I took my time getting the bead on the grouse, knowing my target and beyond.
I could tell the bird was getting antsy, his head popped up, he was looking around and appeared to be on high alert. I am sure he saw me as they have a keen eye.
I gently squeezed the trigger of the shotgun as it was pulled tight into my right shoulder, BOOM! I heard the flap of his wings as he flew to the base of the first tree to the right in the tree line on the skid road. I saw the bird fly but not far.
I jumped up and down and did a fist pump! I had FINALLY harvested my first grouse, but had I, did I celebrate too soon? I was so excited after firing that shot and seeing where the bird flew I assumed I got the bird. As far back as I can remember I have been in pursuit of these upland game birds which are alert and smart, so I was ecstatic.
After my celebratory episode, I then stood there for a minute looking toward the grouse who was flapping his wings like crazy in the tree. I walked down to the road and I looked to Chris and said, “I think I need to shoot again.”
He stood there, shaking his head and replied, “What?”
I never give myself enough credit and for some reason my confidence wasn’t there. Possibly because in all my failed attempts to stalk a grouse they all got away over the years. They always busted and got away as I would try to sneak in a step closer each time. I am not stealthy in any way and every stalk has ended in the grouse flying and most times not once but twice.
I was always busted but not this time. The wait over the years had paid off and I was sure my reward was in the tree line.
Chris begin walking toward me. I turned and headed back for the tree line searching the area for my harvest. Low and behold there he was. The grouse I shot had just expired and he laid there in the grass in all his beauty. I had made a perfect head shot on a beautiful mature grouse.
My pure determination to never give up and to push through even being sick made for the perfect end to my archery elk season. Although I did not notch my elk tag, I did something so much more. I gained confidence in myself and learned to give myself more credit in the field.
We are simply reminded often when hunting that it’s truly about something so much more than a harvest but the overall experience along the way and how we got there.
Stay persistent, keep pushing to reach your goal and never give up.