Utah Opening Grouse Hunt.

This year has been full of new adventures for us. We got married, went to Jamaica, went on a few trips and worked out butts off. The entire time in the back of my mind I was always thinking of bird season coming around. I put us both in for a couple of hunts hoping to get some unique opportunities here in Utah. We both drew a Sharp Tailed Grouse tag, which I’m no longer excited about, and I drew a sage grouse tag. While looking at the Upland hunt guidebook, I noticed that the season for Ruffed Grouse had changed, it now opens on September 2nd.

From that moment on, September 2nd couldn’t get here quick enough. Memories of eating that nice grouse meat made my mouth water as I thought of walking through the woods looking for a grouse. The last time I went on a grouse hunt I made some great memories with my ex father in law. He is someone I’ve looked up to and we have stayed friends despite his daughter and I going our separate ways. Now that great man is going through some medical issues and his days are counted. This only gives me more motivation to continue on hunting and passing on the passion he helped build in me. This time, the grouse hunt was to be with my wife and I wanted her to experience the excitement of bagging her first grouse.

As the days grew closer, I started to prepare for the hunt. Most of my friends are big game hunters and they have been chasing deer for almost a month now. Since we hunt different game, they are always easy to give up where they are seeing the grouse. I have a couple of spots of my own but I wanted to go somewhere new and build new memories and explore new spaces. After all, life is an adventure and hunting is the way to find that adventure. I used OnX to pin point a few spots and find access to the places I wanted to go. I knew we were going out on Labor Day so we may deal with some crowds or even be sharing a mountain. I wanted to make sure we were going to the right spots and that we’d be getting into spots that most people wouldn’t want to go.

The night before the hunt both Kaela and I were working. I had a busy night with calls and Kaela worked a graveyard shift so I knew that she’d sleep most of the drive up. I was too excited to be tired. I wanted to get on the hills and hike and connect with nature. I had been working almost non stop and I needed a cleansing. The day came and I prepared the truck and made sure we were ready to go. The one thing I failed to do was download the map of the area on OnX.  I’ll get back to that.  The drive was pretty easy and I had a friend camping out in the area. I was hoping to possibly link up with him and his family for a few minutes between hunts.

As we got close to where I was planning on hunting, I found out my first mistake of the day. Not downloading the map on OnX. In case you’re not familiar with it, OnXmaps has a feature on the app that you can download a chunk of the map onto your phone for use when you don’t have a signal. This is very handy, especially since we were in new territory and to me I need to have a topographic map to help me stay oriented to where I am. The off-grid feature is one of the best ideas that the creators of OnX ever had. I usually use my garmin GPS as a back up and carry a compass as a backup to the backup, but a compass without a map isn’t much and a GPS without a topographic map is better than nothing.  Still, a map is important.

Once I realized I hadn’t downloaded the map, I sort of had to go by instinct. I had looked over the area quite a bit and had done some online scouting so I finally decided on a road and we went up until I found a spot that looked good. It was about noon at this point so we decided to eat a bit before starting our hike. Thanks to my buddy, Marcel, he taught me to bring some Mountain House meals and a Jetboil and we were able to make a quick lunch. The part that we didn’t realize was that we grabbed the lunch packets that were 3 servings and so we had quite a bit of food to eat. I was excited to get moving so I only ate part of my lunch. Plus, I didn’t want to be slowed down by a full stomach.

Eventually we were ready to get moving. I had parked at the bottom of a hill that was full of Aspens. I could see some wild flowers on the hill and it looked like there was enough going on that we could move around and kick something up. I had forgotten that Kaela had never been on this kind of hike. This isn’t the pretty, maintained trail up some scenic route. This is finding a game trail and walking that, and then splitting up and covering more ground and doing some bush wacking. The initial part of the hike was rough. We kept going in and out of game trails and we had some thick under growth that we were making our way through. Once we cleared the initial bunch of Aspens, I had a better look at the terrain and the hill we were on. There were wild grasses and bushes all over the hill side and it looked like good cover for foraging grouse.

We made a plan to hike to the ridge and then move through some more Aspens and some pines. As we crested the hill, we found that there were grasshoppers everywhere. I was anxious to come across some grouse. I knew it was the hot part of the day but there was a chance that the grouse would be around. At the top of the hill my phone buzzed and I realized I had reception. I tried to download the map of the area onto my phone, but for that it would take a while and we were in the middle of a hunt. While I waited and tried to locate points that I had discussed with my friends, I told Kaela to do some solo hunting. I know that she gets a little nervous when we hunt still. It is still very new to her. It also takes some time before someone is comfortable walking new territory by themselves.

I watched Kaela as she started walking timidly along the ridge. She had her game vest on over a Camelbak and was holding her shotgun ready to take a shot. I was hoping that she would get the first shot of the day. She walked off and I remained in one spot while I tried to download the map. After a couple of minutes I could no longer see my wife. I got a little nervous since I didn’t give her much direction other then “walk along those pines”. After a couple more minutes I decided I better try and find her before she got lost. The great thing is that we like to wear orange game vests. Because of it, it didn’t take me long to see her walking through the pines, carefully taking each step. I could see the anticipation mixed with nervousness as I watched her walking.

Eventually I grew impatient. I had looked at the map enough to be able to come up with the next step. We made a plan and walked through a field of Chokecherries. Then we made a turn and walked along some thick pines as we made our circle back to the truck. Sadly, this part of the hunt didn’t produce any grouse. We did see lots of good forage and even grouse droppings as we walked the ridgeline but some how we missed on the grouse. The other thing we did gain was a massive blister on my foot. That blister made the downhill hike miserable and the fun seemed to get sucked out of the hunt just like a dementor sucks souls in Harry Potter.

We decided that maybe we needed to find a new spot to hunt and that maybe the grouse had moved on. Since the map had partially downloaded, I was able to find where my friend was camping. We stopped by his camp and had a good time with his wife and kid as we talked hunting and camping and just caught up on life a bit. To me, this is all part of hunting. It may seem like a tangent but the connections you make are important and taking a couple of minutes out of your day to say hi to a friend is all part of the experience. My buddy Chase had been hunting Cow Elk in the area and he was the one that told me the initial spot to hunt. Since he’d been hiking around the area, he was able to give me another spot for us to go look for grouse. I had returned the favor by pointing out spots where there had been fresh signs of Elk so that he could hopefully have a successful hunt, too. We finished our left overs from earlier and headed out to this new spot.

We drove down another dirt road as Chase had directed us and came to the end where it met a creek. I knew that the weather was a little warm and I had some choices to make. To me the next part of the hunt was a gamble. We had a lot of pine and Aspens in front of us, but the creek also looked promising as a possible spot to find grouse. By now it was mid afternoon and the grouse should be coming more available.

Looking at the terrain ahead of us, I knew we had some rough hiking to do. It was a steep hillside and it had a ton of undergrowth. We decided that we should hike through the pines and try our luck there. I had a pretty significant blister which was not about to quit and I knew that at some point in this hike, I would have to go head on with it. The beginning of the hike was pretty mellow. We hiked along a trail for a bit and then decided to get into the woods.

We started into these Aspens and the dead fall and undergrowth was more than we expected. We spread out about 25 yards from each other and started pushing through. As we hiked I found more grouse droppings and multiple signs of birds in the area. I had taught Kaela that as we hiked to occasionally call for each other so we knew where each other were. It proved helpful as we made our way through these thick woods. We were wearing our Decibullz earplugs and they worked perfectly. We could hear everything but knew our hearing was protected. The hike was brutal and eventually we came back together. We had come to a ravine that ran along this hillside and we decided that we should make our way up to the ridge line.

In my mind I saw that this was the real gamble. Either the birds were down low getting some water and staying cool, or they could have possibly moved to higher ground and were eating some bugs or possible seeds from plants. We decided that the ridge might be our best shot. We had 200 verificam feet to climb and the choice was to make that climb. As we made it up the hill, we had to take a couple of breaks. Towards the top of the hill we found a roost and we also found a turkey feather. To me that was a good sign that this area might hold birds. The problem was my foot was screaming at me with every step that we took.

We made it to the ridge and took a break. We looked around and sort of meandered around this ridge. There were lots of tall bushes and grass. There were grasshoppers all over once again. Along with butterflies. It really was an amazing scene to watch. We had hiked miles to watch nature interacting with itself. Pollinators were abundant and life was all around us. We even found some deer beds.

Once we reached the top. We decided to finish our cycle and go back to the truck. We were over a mile into this hike and it was getting later than we wanted to be out. We slowly made our way out of this hill we were on and eventually made it back to the truck. After all, we didn’t get to shoot our shotguns. But we had a great time on the mountain.

I’m sure most people wouldn’t take the time to write about an unsuccessful hunt. To me there was more to this trip than bagging a bird. My wife and I have been so busy that 3 days off together in a month and a half isn’t enough. This was us making a memory together and spending quality time together and with friends. It’s easy to miss the bigger things in life as you pursue game, but at the end of the day, most of us don’t remember the bird or the elk, we remember the path that got us there.

We ended up going home empty handed. It has been a week now and my wife and I still keep talking about this hunt. Hunting is about something bigger than just bringing meat home. It’s all in the adventure.

Lessons learned:

  • Always wear a belt
  • Download the map before going out of service
  • Don’t wear boots you are planning on breaking in on a grouse hunt.
  • Make sure you have all your equipment before the hunt.
  • You should stay away from beehives
  • Going off on your own in the woods can be scary
  • You should familiarize your self with poisonous plants

Thanks for checking out our blog. Hopefully you found some useful things in it and it’s helped you prepared for your own grouse hunt.

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