Written by: Tim Linehan, Linehan Outfitting Co.
From New England to Michigan and across to Montana, grouse hunting is all about being in the bush. Grouse coverts are particularly thick and sometimes difficult to navigate. Terrain, varying degrees of vegetation, and topography influence your line of travel through the woods. If you’re hunting with one or more people in your party, safety—and to that end staying in line and executing proper choreography during your hunt—is absolute. One wrong turn by anyone and, well. . .someone could end up getting Cheneyed. Here are five strategies to help you and your hunting partners stay in line and stay safe on your next outing.
1. Choose a quarterback for your hunt.
Have a look at the area you intend to hunt on a map or GPS, and then assign one person to take charge and choreograph the effort. By allowing one person the take charge of an agreed-upon strategy, you minimize the possibility of someone going rogue and ending up in front of the guns.
2. Regardless of whether you’re the quarterback or not, communicate vocally and frequently with your hunting partners.
Every minute or two, everyone in the party should call out to the person immediately next to them to assure everyone is still on line. If you have several people in your party, it’s best to call out to the person next to you and then have everyone else call out down the line, as well. There’s no such thing as too much communication in a thick grouse cover.
3. Be aware of the different paces each of you employ while traveling through the cover.
Experience and physical health certainly influence your partners’ pace. Size up the group dynamic in the first two or three hundred yards and have everyone adjust accordingly. Be decisive and thoughtful about accommodating your partners’ abilities.
4. Use a fixed point to help you stay on line.
Topography and vegetation obstructions are the top reasons that the line breaks down while grouse hunting. One small hill or one patch of blowdown that someone encounters can send them inadvertently right in front of other guns. Every hundred yards or so, and based on your quarterback’s direction, choose a tree, a stump, anything, and head straight for that point. Look up occasionally, maintain good and true direction, and do not deviate. A compass or GPS helps to this end, but it’s far easier to look up occasionally and maintain a bearing on a big, lone pine tree than it is to constantly have to check something hanging around your neck or in your pocket. I learned very early from an old New Hampshire grouse hunter to go through obstructions whenever possible, and not around them, provided you weren’t compromising any safety rules.
5. If the line breaks down and someone is lagging behind or you notice someone out in front, stop the hunt and any shooting immediately.
Regardless of what’s going on–and even if you’re into the mother lode of ruffed grouse and your dog is locked up on point or flushing birds from underfoot–make no exceptions to this rule. It’s only a little bird…and hunting is definitely not bigger than life.
Staying in line while hunting grouse is an absolute. By keeping these five commonsense approaches and strategies in mind while hunting dense grouse covers, you will find it easier to maintain direction and heading which will make for a better and more safer hunt in the end.
Tim Linehan is the owner of Linehan Outfitting Co. in Troy, Montana.