The Grouse Safari

Written by
Rate this item
(1 Vote)

I’m not sure who first called it a Grouse Safari. It might have been Ed. But I do think it’s fitting. Just like hunters travel greater distances to pursue big game in Africa, a group of Southern Appalachian grouse hunters travelling several thousand miles to hunt grouse is an appropriate moniker. It’s something friends and I have been doing for about 20 years now.

It started out in what is considered the “Grouse Capital of the U.S.,” Park Falls and Phillips Wisconsin. We’re all avid grouse hunters in the Southern Appalachians, but birds are scarce. We were hearing of flush numbers in a week that we normally only see in a full season at home. So the six of us loaded our pickup trucks with dogs and hunting gear and made the trek from our homes in western North Carolina.

DonGinnyMNThe author with Ginny grouse hunting in Minnesota.

That’s how it started. Then someone, maybe Jerry, got the idea that we should set the goal of hunting grouse in all the states they populate. The following year was right after the attack on 9/11 so it was just me and Jerry headed to Maine. Trips over the years have taken us back to Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Vermont, and New Hampshire. 

Ah, New Hampshire. That’s where our journey ended and became the destination for all our Grouse Safaris for the last decade or so. There is something that keeps drawing us back. Maybe the mountains in the northern Granite State closely resemble those at home. It might be the hundreds of thousands of acres of accessible land to hunt. Of course, the allure of grouse is part of the equation. It is a popular hunting destination but doesn’t see nearly the pressure of Wisconsin.

NHBenpointgrouseBen on point in the grouse woods of New Hampshire.

I don’t keep a gunning log so the number of grouse and woodcock in the bag is irrelevant. I do know that we’ve had successful days of 20-plush flushes and others, when bird numbers were low, when we were happy to find 10. But like most bird hunters, especially those who travel, it really comes down to the camaraderie, guns, dogs and events in each trip. Those may not be written in a log, but are forever engraved in memories.

On one of our earlier trips my son accompanied us to Wisconsin prior to going into the Army. He and I were walking down a trail one damp morning with a drizzling rain. I was carrying an old Fox Sterlingworth 12 gauge with hand loads in Federal paper hulls. My young setter Ginny locked up on scent near a single spruce tree beside the trail. We actually saw the bird under the tree. As often happens, when it flushed the grouse did the unexpected. Instead of flying across the trail into thick cover, it chose to fly straight down the trail giving an open shot. I brought the Fox to my shoulder, pulled the trigger, and heard the pop of the primer and shot roll out the end of my barrel. We doubled up in laughter and I no longer carry hand loads hunting.

WIdailybagA Wisconsin daily grouse bag.

Another memory that sticks: A friend we shoot clays with joined us on one of our last trips to Wisconsin. Prior to the trip he was joking about pictures he’d seen of field lunches with fine china, candle holders and cotton tablecloths and how he was looking forward to that experience. Of course, our standard field lunch was more along the line of ham and cheese sandwiches, potted meat, cheese crackers, and Moonpies. We didn’t want to disappoint so another hunter brought a candlesticks and a tablecloth. When my friend and I arrived at the predetermined field lunch location there he stood beside the set table with a white cloth over his folded arm. We all got a chuckle out of that.

WIfieldlunchEnjoying a field lunch on a grouse hunt in Wisconsin.

Obviously, birds in the bag are a reason for the trip. But like the hunter on an African safari, it is also about the experience. Believe me, we wouldn’t do it without the dogs. Over the two decades English Setters, Pointers, and Brittanies with names like Ginny, Sally, Addie and Chance have graced our kennels and brought us moments of pleasure watching them work a thick cover and lock up on point.

And of course guns are a integral part of the hunt, but not the high grade side by sides of grouse hunting prints hanging on the wall. As Southern Appalachian grouse hunters our tastes tend toward the utilitarian. Grouse hunting is tough not just on the hunter but the gun. Doug tends toward light semi-auto 20 gauges. Jerry is a long time 16-gauge fan, usually carrying an old over/under. We all carry different guns for our own reasons. But save for the Fox Sterlingworth, I don’t remember any side by sides.

BerettaThe author’s 20-gauge Beretta over/under that took a grouse in New Hampshire.

The aforementioned Fox is what I started with. But the gift from my wife of a Beretta 20-gauge over/under changed that. Then a little Fausti 28 gauge became my go to gun. We all take a second gun “just in case.” My backup, what I call my Desperation gun when I need all the shots I can get, is a Browning Miroku A5 16 gauge. I did carry my Legacy gun once, a little Winchester Model 42 .410 handed down from my uncle. I was fortunate to bag a woodcock with it in New Hampshire. Uncle Jim’s legacy lives on.

And like any other hunting trip things do go wrong. We’ve had lost and sick dogs, flat tires and dead batteries in remote locations. On rare occasion one of us will sustain an injury that limits hunting. Weather has always interfered with at least one rainy day each trip, and once we got an early October snow shower. We learned to expect these events and handle them as best we can.

Eventually all safaris must come to an end. Last year’s safari was my final. Our numbers have dwindled to three. I’ve aged as has my Setter, Ben. My lifestyle and interests have changed. Grouse no longer hold the allure they once did. As the saying goes, the juice ain’t worth the squeeze anymore. Although the safaris are behind me, those memories will last forever. Unknowingly, although it started out about grouse, maybe memories are why we started the Grouse Safaris to begin with.

Don Mallicoat is a freelance outdoor writer and lifelong upland hunter. He currently lives in Asheville, NC and works at Biltmore Sporting Clays Club as an Instructor and Range Officer.

Last modified on Tuesday, 25 October 2022 08:04
Don Mallicoat

Don Mallicoat is a freelance outdoor writer and lifelong upland hunter. He currently lives in Asheville, NC and works at Biltmore Sporting Clays Club as an Instructor and Range Officer.