Oh, Mr. Grouse, you're such a wonderful bird!

By Babe Winkelman

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[November 20, 2013]  Whenever I need to clear my mind or recharge the batteries, my favorite thing to do is to grab the little 20-gauge and my trusty four-legged hunting partner and hit the woods to scare up a grouse.

Really, how can an upland bird get any better? The ruffed grouse is a stealthy, sneaky creature. He's patient and can hold tight to let you pass right on by. He'll bust cover like a feathery rocket, and even if you've experienced 1,000 flushes, he'll always make your heart skip a beat. Oh, Mr. Grouse, you're such a wonderful bird!

Every grouse that hits the ground with a thump is a trophy, for the gunner and gun dog alike. Having the weight of just one in the game bag will make you feel good. Having a limit will make your day complete.

To help you experience the joys of a successful grouse hunt, there are a few pointers I can share from my years in aspens and tangles. The first tip is to look for aspens and tangles. Wherever the cover is thickest, that's where you want to be — because that's where Mr. Ruff wants to be.

If such cover exists on some kind of an "edge," even better. Whether it's the edge of a slough, agricultural field, clear-cut, pine grove or whatever. Grouse are just like deer and fish and every other wild thing — they like transition areas where one topography borders another.

Once you get into grousy cover, keep your ears open. Sometimes a bird or a covey will give themselves away before flushing by rustling or calling. If you're lucky enough to get tipped off before a flush, take advantage of it. Immediately square off to the sound and bring your shotgun up, at the ready. Flushes happen fast, and boy, you better be set!

And remember, you can't connect if you don't shoot. Point that gun quick, and when you see the chaotic blur of ruffed grouse feathers down your barrel, give him a load of 7½'s fast!

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Naturally, it's a huge asset to have a good bird dog with an accomplished nose when poking into grouse coverts. If you're anything like me, watching a dog work is more gratifying than the actual harvest of a bird. My springer spaniel Scamp and I have shared I-don't-know-how-many flushes. When I miss, he gives me that look. It always makes me laugh. And when I connect, he brings me back the bird with a tail wag that says, "Good job, Boss."

Now, as the title of this column suggests, there's a healthiness to grouse hunting. Fresh air, exercise, camaraderie, the list goes on. But I want to end by talking about the healthiness of eating grouse. As far as I'm concerned, a ruffed grouse is the finest table bird on planet Earth — for the body and soul. Even though I have always left the cooking up to my wonderful wife, Kris, and her talents, I want to recommend a meal the next time you have a couple of fresh grouse in your hunting vest.

Breast the birds and pre-rub them with a little seasoning salt, ground pepper and a tiny dusting of cayenne. Heat a cast-iron pan to medium, melt in some butter and pan fry those grouse breasts to where they're just done. Careful not to overcook them!

Then, serve the grouse on top of a bed of wild rice with some sautéed mushrooms. My, oh my, it doesn't get any better than that! And remember to give your dog a few bites. He deserves it.

Good hunting.


Babe Winkelman hosts "Good Fishing" and "Outdoor Secrets," the most-watched fishing and hunting programs on television. Tune in on NBC Sports Network, Destination America, Velocity, Time Warner Sports Texas & New York, and many local broadcast channels. Visit Winkelman.com for airtimes and more information. 

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