East Tennessee Outdoors… East Tennessee Grouse
BY DANNY BLEVINS
A few leaves were falling as I stood and listened to the wind. It was ruffed grouse season in the Tennessee mountains, and I had heard the beating of a grouse’s wings as he tried to attract a mate.
There it was again. It was in the distance under a slight ridge, so I waited.
When he beat his wings again, I moved. When he stopped, I stopped. My goal was to sneak through the noisy leaves and try to get a shot at him.
He beat his wings again, but this time I could see him. If he would beat them one more time, I would be close enough for a clean shot.
My next move was a mistake for me. He saw me and burst through the timber, landing near an old log road. I circled back, and it seemed more like a game of hide and seek than a hunt.
Finally, I saw him in that old logging road. He had landed and run down the road about 100 yards, a technique most grouse will use.
One quick shot from my 12-gauge shotgun and he was mine. The next stop was the supper table.
The mountains of East Tennessee are home to many different species of animals, but to me, there are none as beautiful or as delicious as the ruffed grouse.
The ruffed grouse is especially known in this area for their tender, juicy meat and for how difficult they are to kill.
Their feathers allow them to blend perfectly into the forest floor, and they are known to stand and not move until you are almost on top of them when you are walking through the woods.
Then they erupt through the trees, brush, and laurel bushes to fly away to a safer place, never giving you a shot.
When they erupt, you think a bear is tearing through the forest, and I believe it is as close to a heart attack as you will ever have without actually having one.
Many people hunt them with bird dogs, trained to find and hold the grouse on point until the shooter can get to the dog.
Others, like me, prefer to stalk them as they are distracted during the breeding season or while they are dusting themselves in a cleared part of the forest floor.
Both ways of hunting them are effective, but the use of dogs will usually put more meat on the table.
Today, the population of ruffed grouse has declined for several reasons.
Coyotes and other predators kill them, raccoons eat their eggs, and hawks will also kill them and eat them. Overall, they are prey to almost everything in the woods.
One thing that has protected the population, however, is the clear-cutting that has occurred on some government properties.
Clear-cuts give the grouse a place to lay their eggs and still protect them. Also, a clear-cut will protect the grouse from predators such as coyotes.
Finally, a clear-cut provides the perfect food for the birds because a large percentage of their diet is browse or tinder leaves that have been picked off of trees, especially young growth.
The rough grouse is a unique animal in this area, and though it can be found in larger numbers in other areas, they are a joy to hunt. You just never know what you are going to encounter on a grouse hunt, and to me, that makes the hunt extra special.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has set this year’s grouse season to begin on October 10, 2020, and it will close on February 28, 2021.
If you get time, get out and enjoy the hunt for these tasty little birds.
Your stomach will thank you.
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