I have never hunted elk in the mountains of the West though I’m aware of the divine form of physical torture that it can produce. But after two days of huffing and puffing around the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina in pursuit of ruffed grouse, I think I’ve found the wing shooting equivalent. And it was damn fun.
My guide was Craig Byers from Curtis Wright Outfitters in Weaverville, North Carolina. Byers, a native of the area, seemed born to walk in the mountains. He moved with a grace and economy of motion that my Lowcountry-honed stride could not match. His dog, a pointer named Baby Girl, was even more athletic. And she–and her sniffer—was a key to our success. Here are four things I learned from the hunt.
Bring a Buddy: The wild flush of a ruffed grouse has been described countless times, but our guide said it best, “It just gets you all jumbled up.” The booming clap of wings and feathers can throw off even experienced hunters. Having two guns at the ready will increase the odds of dropping a bird.
The Right Gun: Upland types can spend an entire evening debating the merits of the perfect grouse gun. Lesser folks, like myself, need know just a few things. When you’re hoofing it up a mountain and through briar tangles that seem delighted to pull off your hat and rake your knuckles you want a light gun. A 20-gauge will get the job done without weighing you down. While 7 ½’s are the preferred grouse load, if you’re toting a double don’t be afraid to load 6’s for the second shot, which often requires the hunter to reach out through some brush.
Boots on the Ground: While climbing up the side of a mountain, your feet will bend and twist in ways that don’t seem possible. Lash your laces down tight. Real tight. If your foot has room to slide around, you’ll regret it.
Enjoy the Moment: Craig Byers says that when grouse hunting, there’s nothing like the moment between point and flush. And he’s right. But take the time to look around, too. You’re in beautiful country.