I’m currently reading Burton Spiller’s More Grouse Feathers and a section that he discusses jumped out at me. Burt referred to a piece he wrote in Grouse Feathers in which he stated “it might possibly be the faint recurrence of a long-lost instinct to migrate”, and that “Nothing was farther from my thought than to imply I believed they did migrate, but I know that during certain seasons in the fall, their movements are actuated by a different impulse than that which guides their wanderings through the rest of the year.”
He goes on to tell a story of a hunt in the 1930’s in which his hunting party, along with two dogs, combed a grouse covert for several hours without finding a single grouse. On their way out, not far from the car, an uncountable number of grouse flushed simultaneously.
He states “I do not know why, when they should have been scattered either singly or in groups of two or three over several hundred acres, that every last bird in that territory should have gathered under those few pine trees or among their branches. Surely no threatened danger could have caused it, for no human ingenuity could have devised a plan that would have successfully herded them into so small and area.” “Neither do I know why they arose as a single unit, for such is not their ordinary custom, yet although we went hopefully and carefully into every nearby place of possible concealment, we found not one lone straggler.”
On a separate hunt, Spiller tells a story of him and a friend hunting a known grouse covert for a morning without finding a bird. Once they were back on the road and walking towards their car, they saw a lone grouse fly across the road on set wings and landed two hundred yards away. After a short discussion of what caused the bird to flush and fly across the road, they decided to follow-up on the bird. When they entered, they experienced ten minutes of fast and furious action that has not been equaled to this day. They ended up with eight birds in their vest.
Burt states, “I wish someone would explain what induced them to bunch up in that half-acre of ground – and then I would like to have him tell me how that one lone grouse knew they were there.”
While reading this, I began to think about my past hunts and see if I had experienced anything like it. I’ve only flushed the typical groups of two or three with the exception of early season broods and one hunt I was on last year.
I actually wasn’t even carrying a gun. Nick and I were finishing up our week-long Northwoods’R trip and deer hunting season was right around the corner. I was carrying a portable tree stand to hang and since I’ve flushed grouse in those woods before I advised Nick to bring his gun along. I hung the stand and we busted brush a bit in search of a few grouse. Nick took two quick shots at a bird that flushed on the opposite side of a slash pile but didn’t connect. We circled back towards the truck with Nick leading the way.
We stopped to analyze a couple rubs that deer had left on the tree along with some deer trails. Nick started walking again and that’s when it happened. Back behind me and to the left, two to three grouse flushed simultaneously. Nick didn’t hear them so I caught his attention. We froze in our tracks as one after another got up from the same location. We counted seven grouse in total and not a shot was fired. I was standing directly between Nick and the birds so no safe shot opportunities were presented and I was standing there without a gun.
While what we experienced isn’t the same magnitude of what Burt experienced 80 years ago, I suspect that this isn’t typical behavior of Ruffed Grouse. Something brought those birds together that day and whatever caused it, I do not know.
I echo Spiller’s thoughts and comments noted above. I’d love to hear from our readers and see if any of you have similar experiences and if you were able to deduct anything from them.
We’re a month out from the opener; it is time to condition your dogs and yourselves, oil up your boots and guns. The countdown is here.
I leave you with this quote from Burton Spiller’s Grouse Feathers. “It is grouse time again. I need no calendar to tell me that. The old drummer has found his log and the staccato beat of his wings is audible in the stillness of the October afternoon. The woodcock have begun their long migration, and the fall ducks are in. The red gods are calling and I must go.”