The fall season is one that brings mixed emotions. The sun starts setting earlier and cool winds decide to make themselves known. Living in a high mountain desert, the fall is part of a complete change in scenery. It also signifies hunting season is here. One of my favorite trees in the fall are aspens. Aspens are mystic to me. Their white trunks show scars that are unique to each tree. The leaves seem to sing in the wind when the wind goes by. The other reason I like aspens is that grouse like to hang around them, too.
The reason I mention all of those feelings is that that’s how my day started. One of my jobs is up in the mountains. We work out of a little wood cabin and have amazing views everywhere we look. I have really grown to love working up there. The morning of my hunt I stepped outside to find turkeys walking along the bushes on the driveway. The night before a rainstorm had come through so that cool fall air was very much present. The feeling of fall and the turkeys on the front steps made me think that I was going to have a good day chasing grouse.
This hunt was needed. Life has been busy and a lot was on my mind. My wife was in full support of me going hunting and that was all I needed. As I began making my way to my hunting spot, I noticed a few trees had started to turn. We haven’t had very many cold days but it must be enough. I was looking forward to having a disconnect. This area usually has no cell phone reception and that was the main part of my wanting to hunt. As I got closer to the original spot I was planning on hunting, I decided to take a turn and try a place that my friend pointed out to me.
I turned down a dirt road and drove about a quarter of a mile and pulled over by a thicket of aspen. The mountainside was spotted with aspens. In between, there were wildflowers and shrubs that were shades of yellows and greens. I got my vest on and my camelback on, loaded my shotgun and started up the hill. Walking into those aspens my eyes would look at the ground and then up in the branches. I had new boots and I was immediately impressed by them, and then took my mind off of them.
Soon into my hike, I found a deer trail and some fresh droppings. I looked at how the deer trail went and it wandered through the aspens and went from one bunch of aspens to the other. I decided that it would be a good idea to follow the deer trails. Maybe that would be key to finding some grouse. As I got moving, soon I could smell elk. The wind was blowing a bit and maybe that was carrying the smell. I continued to hike and eventually saw some deer pop up. I had gotten close to their bedding area and they quickly got up and left. I wasn’t trying to be sneaky. After all, I’m hunting grouse and want them to flush for me. No use in being sneaky or quiet.
My hike took me through some deadfall. I always wonder what makes so many trees fall at what seems to be the same time. I studied the downed trees and looked for signs of birds. Some trees were fairly rotten and that has to have bugs for grouse to eat. Still, there were no signs of grouse. As I continued my hike, I found the elk the wind had given up. They were bedded down on a thick patch of aspens. I walked to their bed spots and looked around. It’s impressive how big those animals are.
At this point, I had done a bit of hiking and I hadn’t seen any grouse. The weather was being weird. There were some clouds but the wind was leading a storm front. I knew that my odds were going to get harder. I pulled up my OnX app and looked at the satellite images. I identified some thicker bunches of trees and decided to move that way. I had been listening to a podcast by Project Upland and it was all about grouse and one of the things that were mentioned is, “if you can feel the wind on your face, it’s not thick enough,” referring to habitat and cooler weather. I was hoping they were right.
The one thing this hill didn’t have much of was pines. I knew that staying in aspens and the weather turning would be a gamble. My time was limited though so I was sticking to the plan. As I walked through a sparse group of trees. I saw some turkeys walking out on this open field. Again I thought of the omen that started my morning. I was excited to find a grouse. Even if I missed it would be worth it. Moving into this thicker cover I once again spooked some more resting deer. This time there was a small two-pointer in the middle of all the does. I walked into what seemed to be a small bowl. The vegetation I was walking though started to change a bit. It went from more desert type weeds to grasses and berries. I was up on the top of the bowl and I had a good clear view of my surroundings.
I stopped for a second to take a breath and look around when all of a sudden a flurry of wings popped up at the bottom of this bowl. There were five medium-sized birds that flushed when a hawk flew over. I didn’t get a good enough look to identify them but obviously, there was food in the area. I decided to zig-zag my way through this bowl. As I got closer to the trees, a bird flew from one tree to the other and it was a big brown bird. I’m not good at identifying birds but that was not a grouse. I walked through that whole group of aspens and found no signs of grouse.
Seeing those birds did get me excited. I hiked to the end of these aspens and saw another group of aspens. I decided to give that spot my last try. As I hiked to this next spot, I began thinking of all the things that have been going on in my life. A lot of good things are happening. With changes come a little bit of stress until life settles down. I looked around me and thought about what I was doing. I was hunting, all alone and there wasn’t a soul around. I was alone in a great spot with only the wind making noise. I walked into this next spot when I found that berries and grass were all over the undergrowth. The vegetation had completely changed. The aspens were packed together and there was no wind cutting through. There were some smaller pine trees in this patch that couldn’t be seen from anywhere. I became really hopeful that I would find grouse here.
Moving through this new cover I was seeing berries all over. I knew I was in a good spot and I was just waiting for a flush. Soon I found a grouse feather. I knew that meant they had been in the area recently. I decided to zig-zag through this patch of aspens and hopefully get a flush. The problem I had going was that the weather was really starting to turn. This meant that the grouse would be getting into some cover and not budging. Making my way through this spot, I eventually came across more deer that were bedded down. Apparently, someone else was aware of that spot because there was an old tree stand up on a tree nearby. Sadly all I found were those deer. No grouse flushed and nothing else moved. There was perfect peace in this spot.
With the weather turning and me having commitments in the afternoon, I had to hurry and hike back to my truck. On my way back I thought some more about life. I thought about a good friend who has recently passed away. I thought about our grouse hunt a few years back. We had hiked 5 miles before we saw the grouse. I shot my first grouse on the fly. I missed my first shot but got the follow-up. I also thought about our fishing trips and all the time we spent at the side of a lake. I looked around me again and now I was up on a saddle overlooking most of the area I had been hiking through. The snow was just starting to fall and the wind was blowing. For a second I paused and found the peace I needed.
Up in the mountains, chasing grouse, I found my self again. I saw who I am and the greatness of things around me and remembered how fleeting time is and how we need to seize the moments. I had gone hunting to chase grouse but found way more than grouse. I found deer, elk, hawks, turkeys, I found every animal I wasn’t looking for. But in the bunch of Aspens, I found my inner strength and inner peace. That is what hunting does for me.
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