Jim's Outdoor Blog

Hunting, RVing and Great Escapes – Everything Outdoors

Cascade Blues in January

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Late Season Western Oregon Grouse

The joys and responsibilities of Christmas are now fifty-one weeks away and you are the only guy in line to purchase a new hunting license.  The facial expression of the nice woman tapping keys on the Fish and Wildlife computer fail to hide her thoughts.  Tired from a long holiday season, she is grateful that her husband isn’t the pathetic man standing at her counter on January 1st, here at 9:01 a.m. buying a hunting license.  Inside your head a little voice is asking, “Is she right?  Is this obsession?”  But thankfully there is a reply, “NO!  She has no idea what fun I’m going to be having while everyone is sleeping off their hangovers.”

Grouse season extends into January on Oregon’s western slopes.  From the crest of the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, licensed hunters can take in their final days of upland bird hunting.  If you are looking for Blue Grouse, try hunting as high in the Cascade Range as the snow pack will allow.   According to the Grouse Wing Study conducted by Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, the best Blue habitat will be found on the western slopes of Douglas, Jackson and Lane counties.

On a particularly sunny Sunday in January of 2006, my friend Mark Stephens, his son Matt, my black lab Babe and I had a great day chasing Blues at 1,000 to 4,000 feet above sea level.  The birds were enjoying the sunshine as much as we were and could be found soaking up some rays throughout the day.  We probably hunted eight hours or so and saw over one-dozen grouse, all big Blues. 

We spied most of the Blues moving in the sunshine ahead of us as we slowly made our way along old skid roads and fire trails, zig-zagging through stands of adult trees Fir trees mixed with re-prod and brush.  Many times the birds would flush into nearby trees, allowing us time to get into position with guns and the working member of our foursome, my dog.  One man was usually the designated shooter, while the others stood by for moral support.  Of course the most critical component was for the dog to see the bird flush, so the dog could pin point the bird’s fall.  If you’ve ever bird hunted in the mountains, you know how hard it can be to recover a fallen prize, which invariably comes to rest many yards off the roadway.   With nearly vertical slopes and often thick brush, a dog can save you valuable time and effort.

Nearly everyone is familiar with Ruffed grouse, but possibly have not seen it’s larger cousin.  Blue grouse can be substantially bigger, the size of a large chicken.  I have taken Blue’s that are as heavy or heavier than a large Ring-neck Pheasant rooster.  Just as with quail, Ruffed grouse and other upland birds, Blue grouse populations can vary widely from year to year.  The highs and lows of their census numbers seem to run in a loose twenty year cycle.   I have seen a large number of Blues over the past three or four years.

For me, the best part of upland hunting has always been the joy of working with my dogs and the camaraderie shared with friends and family in the field or in the timber.  Taking home birds has less and less importance the older I get.  I enjoy every outing, rain or shine, with a full game bag being fairly low on the list of priorities.  My wife has always said that when pricing it by the ounce, the only thing more expensive than illegal drugs – is pheasants.  The same could be said of grouse hunting, especially with fuel prices at an all time high.

Next winter, when you find yourself sitting in your living room, bored beyond belief, get your license and bird validation and head for the mountains with your gun, a friend and preferably with a dog.  For me, grouse hunting can chase away those rainy January … Blues.

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March 12, 2008 - Posted by | Turkeys, Grouse, Pheasants and other Feathered Critters

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