Enthusiasm can enhance skill, but it can’t replace experience.
In my effort to become a better Alaskan, I took up grouse hunting last fall. This was after I harvested two birds during deer hunts and really enjoyed the new lunch menu. Once I sought them specifically, I failed miserably. I have no doubt it was a direct consequence of me declaring they were my intended quarry.
Now that it is spring I am reengaging in what has been a largely frustrating endeavor. I spent three days during my spring break walking through the forest finding a good spot and laying on my back with binoculars, looking into the top of the forest.
Sounds ridiculous, right?
Here’s what I know, which is probably only partly correct. The spring “hooter” program is pretty much like I described, only you’re supposed to walk around until you hear a grouse hoot, locate the tree, and take the shot.
Apparently, it’s a little early for the breeding season, so it’s unsurprising it’s difficult to find something the size of a youth football among trees. But once the hooting starts, I still can’t imagine it will be a slam dunk, because who knows where the hooting will be coming from and just because you can hear it, doesn’t mean you can find it. I’m thinking it’s like steelhead fishing, the fish of one thousand casts. Not that it will take one thousand touches of the trigger, but that there will be a ton of searching until I get one.
Being at square one with such a potentially maddening journey ahead can be daunting, but things like this used to be a fundamental requirement of survival. Not shooting grouse specifically, but the idea that tasks require time, a little misery and getting your hands dirty. Not everything can be solved with a Google search and not everything should be solved with a trip to the store.
So, I’m trying to pick things up about grouse hunting by talking to real humans. What am I looking for? What are the environmental and climate cues? Why do some people look for grouse in the trees, while other say the trick is to look on and near old logging roads? Are those different types of grouse?
Sometimes it’s not about doing things when they are at their best. Sometimes you have to snuggle up with the long shot, to familiarize yourself with futility if for no other reason than to make sure you’re not becoming dependent on a lack of difficulty.
Now that it’s spring and the excitement is palpable it’s easier to spend unsuccessful hours in the woods. The weather is tolerable and it’s easier to stay dry. My breath is invisible again and my nose stays with me all day which is always great. Time will tell how much this new thing will take, but I’m pretty enthusiastic, which is a pretty good start.
• Jeff Lund writes and teaches in Ketchikan.