There is still plenty of time left for woodland hunters to put a ruffed grouse on the table for a unique dinner.
In Ohio, the season runs through the end of this month, while Kentucky’s season runs through the end of February. The daily limit in Ohio is two, while Kentucky allows four a day.
Back years ago, when my reflexes were fast and my legs untiring, I had a “secret” place for grouse hunts. I can now divulge it was located just half a mile from the Kentucky end of the Carl Perkins Memorial Bridge, which wasn’t there in those days.
The hunts took place behind South Portsmouth High School, in a grove of pine trees growing in a meadow that gave way to a hollow filled with sage brush, briar patches and thickets.
It was ideal grouse habitat. I once discovered a nest where Mrs. Ruff had laid 11 eggs. It was on the ground in the thickest of underbrush. She had high hopes of raising a family. Success depended on the nest not being discovered by foxes or other predators, who would eat the eggs or perhaps the chicks. If two or three managed to reach adulthood then her efforts to perpetuate the species had proved effective.
Anytime I hunted the area, keeping my shotgun pointed skyward, the safety off, and my finger on the trigger, I would always flush at least two, sometimes three.
Once, when there were several inches of snow on the ground, they roared out from the snow-covered boughs of the pines. Usually, though, I kicked them out of the thickets, where there was little time to get off a shot.
Never once did my load of No. 7s ruffle a feather on those feathered cannonballs.
GROUSE FOR CHRISTMAS?
One column I wrote about a December hunt there was titled “The Christmas grouse.” The treatise involved my futile efforts to bag a grouse for Christmas Dinner.
I summed it up by writing that Mr. and Mrs. Ruff and their family would enjoy a wonderful Christmas while I went to the supermarket to buy a chicken for dinner.
The grouse is about the size of a smallish hen, weighing maybe two, wo-and-one-half pounds.
In the late 1980s the state widened U.S. 23 (truck route) down to the end of the Perkins bridge. The contractor timbered the pine trees and filled the hollow in with dirt from the project. A paved road leads up to the end of the fill. An overgrown trail leads up through the trees to the ridgetop. It’s the backdoor to Dead Man’s Ridge.
Recently I made my way up the road. I carried a camera, not a gun. A federal law in effect now can bring a prison term for anyone convicted of carrying a gun within 1,000 yards of a school. Harvest Christian Academy now operates a school in the old high school building, which ceased to be a public school in the 1970s.
I figured the grouse, having had their dwelling place destroyed, had moved on to another hollow on the other side of the ridge, or perhaps along the ridgetop itself.
I was surprised when, at the end of the road, a grouse flushed out and flew uphill through the trees.
The ruffed grouse survives biting winters from Alabama to Alaska. There has never been any evidence where grouse have starved to death during the harshest of winters.
Although chicks will feed largely on ants and other insects the first two or three weeks of their lives, by the time winter rolls around they and adult grouse depend largely on plant foods for their sustenance. Pheasants and quail would starve miserably on the grouse’s winter diet. Ol’ Ruff will make it very well on the buds of cherry, birch and a few other trees, as well as the leaves of evergreens.
The grouse, shot in season and properly prepared, is invariably a delicacy of the first order. In fact, the most ardent grouse hunters can drive themselves to total exhaustion in pursuit of the elusive quarry because of their unbending yearning for their next grouse meal.
2 dressed grouse
2 apples, chopped
½ teaspoon salt
2 onions, chopped
1 and 1/4 cups orange juice
¼ teaspoon white pepper
2 onions, chopped
Rub the birds inside and out with the salt and pepper, then stuff equal portions of the onion and apple in the birds’ cavities.
Next, place the grouse in a deep roasting pan or dish that has a lid and pour the orange juice over the grouse.
Now cover with a tight-fitting lid and place in a preheated 375-degree oven for one hour, or until the birds are tender.
Reach G. Sam Piatt at email@example.com or (606) 932-3619