Nothing gets the heart pumping like a flushing bird breaking the silence of a crisp autumn morning. From seemingly out of no where they can turn a hunters peaceful walk in the woods into a frenzy of heart pounding action.
Its for this reason that most people who have gone grouse hunting consider the grouse to be one of the most exciting and enjoyable species to hunt ( not to mention tasty!).
So when I was offered the opportunity to travel to a rustic hunting camp north of Algonquin park, I jumped at the chance. Nestled against the northeastern border of Algonquin Park about 11km from Highway 17, the camp has been run by my friend’s family for the better part of 50 years via a crown land lease . The camp is situated amongst fairly dense coniferous woods which have been selectively logged in some areas. The combination of the new growth triggered by the logging and the sheer density of the woods makes this area prime bird hunting habitat.
So in anticipation, my friend Dave and I left Kingston around 5pm on friday and made our way up highway 15. We met the camp owner, a mutual friend, in Arnprior and made the 1 -2 hour trek across Highway 17 and then down a back road to the camp. After spending a few minutes getting the camp in order and firing up the wood stoves, we settled in for a rest before the next days much anticipated hunt.
At the time we weren’t sure if it was a dream or not but during the evening, all three of us seemed to hear a grouse beating outside the camp. Either a weird coincidence, wishful thinking or a very good sign for the hunt to come.
I am glad it turned out to be option 3!
We awoke early and had a classic bacon and egg breakfast before heading out. We loaded our two 12 gauges into the car and hit the road shortly after. Our heading? Towards a few spots the owner was familiar with. In my experience grouse often stick to specific areas that offer cover, food and water. So if you have seen birds in a specific area, consider them prime candidates when selecting hunting spots on later hunts.
The action was slow to start and the crisp morning seemed to be keeping the birds in their roosts. The temperatures were in the negatives over the evening and it was taking the sun quite a while to warm up the area. Not to mention there was snow on the ground and ice on some of the lakes.
But, once the sun was out in full force, the birds seemed to wake up.
(a moment of appreciation between the author and his quarry)
(Dave’s first grouse hunt)
(the owner holding up a bird after the hunt)
(possibly one of the most beautiful birds to be found in Ontario)
We shot a total of three birds in low scrub cover over the course of the day and saw another 3 that flushed a bit to far away to shoot. The birds were taken with #7 1/2, #6 and #2 shot. Although I have never heard of #2 for grouse, the owner insisted it was needed to penetrate the thick bush encountered in the area. After seeing the bush first hand, I believe it. Just make sure you try to it out on a few clays prior to hunting since #2 will pattern much differently than #7 1/2 and will require greater accuracy. Not a big deal when shooting something that is still but becomes a big issues when trying to hit a flushing grouse.
(In my opinion, three birds in one day is not too shabby!)
Of course, everyone who has hunted grouse knows the best part comes around dinner time. We dusted the grouse breasts with seasoned salt, pan seared with bacon and then threw them on the charcoal grill to finish. To enhance the flavour a bit, we threw a smoldering piece of cedar on the grill. Smoked grouse anyone? Nom nom nom
As an added bonus, I had brought a few of my home made smoked summer venison sausages from this years deer. What a deliciously wild feast!
We washed it all down with a couple fingers of single malt scotch and settled in for a comfortable evening beside the camp stove.
Its times like this that make me think of how lucky we Ontarians are to be able to enjoy such amazing experiences, in such a beautiful part of the world. Not to mention being able to enjoy such an amazing meal with some of highest quality of meat you can get. Don’t forget the low carbon footprint to boot.
Days like this are out there for the taking, so get outside and enjoy what the wilderness has to offer!
Cheers from the Wild