Every year, most experienced hunters in our neck of the woods are running through the mountains looking to arrow a nice Montana bull elk. However, on their way to the elk grounds, they are most likely passing through excellent habitat for a much less sought-after bounty: grouse. “Thunder chickens,” as some call them, make both fine table-fare and an excellent bird to chase when time limits one's ability to get deep into the backcountry for larger game. So, whether you've been hunting your whole life or you’re completely new to the sport, now is the time to get after some of these awesome game birds.
Hunters can pursue this bird in a variety of habitats, though the most common spots in our area are along old logging roads through timbered areas in the foothills of the Gallatin range. This makes grouse hunting appealing since you can start hunting the minute you get out of your truck. Oftentimes, they are found sitting on branches, fallen logs, stumps or even in the middle of the trail, which is quite pleasurable compared to the bushwhacking usually needed to find other game. While they are quite easy to spot, you can also listen for their subtle clucking noises or the more impressive drumming which males create by flapping their wings in an unmistakable rhythm.
The most common tools used to hunt grouse include .22 caliber rifles, 20 and 12 gauge shotguns and archery setups using a small game broadhead. All are perfectly suitable for taking down this smaller animal, which commonly weighs about one to two pounds. Shot placement is preferably around the head and neck area, which ensures the meat found in the thighs and breasts are saved of any impact from your projectile.
When it comes to cooking grouse, you’ll find it hard to go wrong. Treat it similarly to chicken and fry, bake or grill the delicious meat to get the most out of their fantastic taste. Unlike the chicken, which many people are used to eating, these birds provide organic, healthy meat that is hormone-free and will satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. To get the most meat off of the bird, hunters should use the gutless method of cleaning to save the best parts, which are the breasts and thighs. A helpful video is available on Bozeman local Randy Newberg's YouTube channel and is titled “Gutless Method for Grouse - How to with Randy Newberg.” The link to this video is https://youtu.be/pRV5F4cj6Sk.
To find the specific regulations for the area you're hunting in, refer to the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks website, where you can download a copy of this year's rules and regulations pamphlet. There are different laws depending on the area of the state you are hunting, so it’s important to read the laws that are specific to your area. If you are looking for more information on how to hunt these birds, the Montana FWP website also offers a good amount of insight into where and how to chase them. The most important thing is just to get out and become familiar with an area you think would be a good habitat for grouse. Look for good timber coverage, water and forbs, which the grouse eat, to determine if the area you want to hunt provides their ideal environment. Then get ready for some mostly peaceful, and sometimes exhilarating walks through the woods hunting these delicious birds. You’ll surely understand in no time just why hunters believe grouse are such an underrated and enjoyable fall game.