Ontario Grouse 2.0

Last year I had the pleasure of joining two friends (Oliver and Dave) at Oliver’s camp located North of Algonquin Park.  One week after Deer season, we travelled to the camp in search of one of Ontario’s most notorious game bird, the ruffed grouse.  (https://wildsofontario.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php).  This trip was, an astounding success and I was overjoyed when rumours of a second trip in 2014 started to swirl.

This year, the trip was planned for late October to take advantage of the fall colours and to fit the trip into our busy schedules.  Oliver had reported that they had seen an over abundance of birds just a couple weeks earlier on a separate trip.  Including a single, rare for the area, spruce grouse.  The intent of the trip was to install some much needed insulation at the camp , but mostly we were just hoping to get into some heavy bird action.

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Dave and I loaded our mountain bikes, hunting gear and some renovation supplies into a trailer and made our way up to our meet point in Arnprior.  Once there we piled into Oliver’s larger vehicle, switched the trailer over and barrelled down Highway 17 with visions of grouse in our heads.  It was good to reunite, share some laughs and reminisce on past trips on the way to the camp.

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Once arrived, we settled in, unpacked the shotguns, and immediately headed out into the bush.  Our arrival at the camp was greeted by a warm sunny fall day with not a cloud in site.  This was perfect grouse hunting weather.

Since the camp was strategically located near several old ATV trails, we decided to start out hunt there.  These trails were surrounded by thick mixed bush with lots of undergrowth and some slash from former logging operations.  Grouse often congregate on trails where they can pick up small stones to aid their digestion process.  These places can also act as centres for social gathering or mating.  Coupled with the protection the nearby thick brush provides, and proximity to running water, these areas are absolutely ideal for ruffed grouse and many other “Tetraonine” species.

Not long into our outing the grouse started to appear and we managed to harvest several birds.  The trip was off to a great start!

(below: Dave with his first grouse with a new shotgun)

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Last year I hunted with my Remington 870 and was pleasantly surprised by its range and power.  The only downside was it is a fairly cumbersome shotgun and is a bit to heavy for prolonged treks.  Enter my solution to this problem, the 20ga SxS Stoeger Coach gun. This trip would be the inaugural grouse hunting trip for the new gun and I was excited to make the transition from pump to SxS.  No outdoor blog woudl be complete without at least one or two gear reviews so here is a it of one for the Stoeger:

As you can see in the photo below, the gun was very efficient at taking down grouse and was capable of making consistent shots up to 40 yards.  With the short barrel and bead sight this little gun was faster than any other grouse gun I have ever used.  Being a 20ga with a short barrel makes this gun very light on the arm.  In turn making it easy to carry in hand for long periods of time.  Most people immediately have an issue with the short barrel, but don’t let that dissuade you from considering this little beauty.  Instead focus on its good points: low cost for a break action ($549), fast barrel, sturdy build, sleek demeanor, light weight, the short barrel makes it fast in the bush, and it comes with interchangeable chokes (which is rare for double barrels).  Not to mention there is something elegant about a SxS compared to the brash functionality of a pump.  I’ll have to remember my blaze orange top hat and monocle for the next hunt!

(below: The author with a double taken with the Stoeger SxS)

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Back to the report, when the dust and gunpowder settled, each of us had multiple shooting chances, and in total we harvested 8.  We spotted at least 6 more birds and a woodcock but unfortunately we were not given great shots and the birds were able to disappear in the underbrush.  Regardless, for two days of only sporadic hunting between renovations, we walked away with a great group of birds that more than doubled our success last year.  Unfortunately a local martin (or similar critter) decided we had one too many birds and helped itself to one leaving us with 7.

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(below: A sunset on one of the local lakes)

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Harvesting these birds is a lot of fun.  Not to mention, many claim they are the best tasting and most prized game bird of all the north American species (myself included) .  But it is not just the end result that drives me to trek the dirt paths for these birds year over year.  Grouse hunting offers the hunter a chance to see nature at its best.  Beautiful sunrises, pristine lakes, the majesty of the creatures you encounter while you walk and the over all sense of being part of something larger than yourself.  Its a great past time to share with friends and family alike and guaranteed to provide you with memories for the future. 

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Once back I decided to pull out all the stops and create a nice dinner for the Mrs.  Mmmmm nothing beats grouse!

(below: grouse breast soaked in olive oil, garlic, rosemary and parmesan, pan seared in bacon fat and roasted over onions, rosemary and juniper berries. Finished with pan seared porobello mushrooms and buttered beans and served with a wild mushroom gravy.) 

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Cheers from the Wild

Albert

Forest Chicken Supreme – A Weekend Grouse Hunt North of Algonquin

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!

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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.

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(a moment of appreciation between the author and his quarry)

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(Dave’s first grouse hunt)

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(the owner holding up a bird after the hunt)

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(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.

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(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!

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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

Albert