Grousing about Grouse

We were walking through the timber when suddenly we heard the distinctive sound of ruffled feathers as a grouse exploded from its hideout.  I had some choice words for it as the bird gave me the bird and soared downhill, never to be seen again.

Grouse.  If it's not on the menu, well, it should be. If you've never hunted grouse, you're missing an incredibly tasty bird that must be added to your diet.  A mountain grouse will make a good meal for anyone, and if you roast the grouse, you'll feel like royalty when you take a bite.  Yeah, it's that good.

Three Types of Mountain Grouse in Montana

There are three distinctive types of grouse where we live: blue or dusky grouse, ruffed grouse, and the Franklin grouse.  Of the three, we've hunted two: the dusky and the ruffed.  Both are amazingly tender and great eating.  I have not hunted the Franklin grouse, but I have heard that because it lives on a diet of mostly spruce and pine needles, it can taste like you're eating pine needles, and is unpalatable to most folks.  (Larry and I discovered critters that eat pine as a sole source of food are pretty unpalatable.  We found this out with snowshoe hare--nice idea, but very piney.)  Although both the dusky and the ruff will eat pine, they pretty much eat berries, seeds, and grass. Oh, and they like grasshoppers.  I hear duskies like snowberries, but I've found them on chokecherries, pine nuts, and other berries.

Of the three, the dusky grouse is the largest weighing around two to three pounds.  The ruffed grouse will weigh about a pound or so.  Franklin grouse are about the same size as ruffed grouse. 

How You Hunt Them

Some folks use dogs to hunt upland game birds.  Honestly, that is way cool if you have a ubiquitous sporting dog that will point, flush, or retrieve.  Larry and I have Alaskan Malamutes, who would rather eat the bird than bring it back to you.  (Pointing and flushing are right out, too.)  But they are excellent at seeing the birds and showing them to you.  Another plus is they carry packs and will pack the bird back for you, assuming you can get it in the pack before they snatch the bird from your hand.

When we hunt with shotguns, we don't bring the dogs.  If we're with dogs, we use a .22 because it doesn't hurt their ears as much. (We don't need deaf dogs.)  Basically we go where we've seen grouse in the past.  (Scouting before the season is important.)  As for shooting them, if you're worried about taking a "fair shot" and want to go home empty handed, wait for the bird to flush.  I'll shoot mine on the ground or in the tree, thank you (quite legal up here).  I want dinner, not a fair fight.  That being said, Larry is actually pretty good at taking them on the wing.

Where the Grouse are...

Grouse hang out where they will.  I hear stands of Douglas firs are inviting, as are aspen stands, but honestly if you're in Montana, you're going to find a Doug fir somewhere in the forest when you're looking for grouse.  We've found more dusky grouse than ruffed grouse in our hunting expeditions.  We've found them in thickets, in timber, on high altitude slopes, and just about anywhere you care to hunt.  Usually you find them when you're looking for deer or elk and you haven't brought your shotgun or .22 . (And there's a small matter of the grouse versus a .375 H&H, but that's classified...)   Pistols in calibers up to 9mm (use FMJ ammo) work well, too.

If you're looking around snowberries and chokecherries, that would be a good start. Other potential places are near creek beds and in thickets where the ruffed grouse are said to hide.  (Amazingly, none of  these birds read what's written by so-called "experts" and will show up in places you don't expect.)

Preparing Grouse

Since I'm the one who dresses out the birds in the family (Larry is more the field dresser for big game, but I'll get up to the elbows in deer guts, too, if I have to), I usually skin the birds.  Even when I pluck the grouse, their skin is so fragile that half of it rips out with the feathers.  (It's like they were made to be eaten.)  Many people breast out their birds, but here in Montana, you also have to take the legs and thighs.  Since I discovered that grouse are wonderful roasted, I skin, gut the bird, and roast it sans head, feet, and wings.  A friend of mine likes to dip a grouse breast in mayonnaise, roll it in bread crumbs, and fry it.  I've never tried it.

The recipe I've included is modified heavily from a one I found in Field and Stream.  And once you try it, it'll be hard to wait for another bird season once this year's season is over.  It's Roasted Grouse with Morels.  Enjoy!

--M H Bonham