Went hooter hunting earlier this week. Had to wait till late morning, as low tide was about noon, and I didn’t want the boat high and dry when I came out. It was a bit breezy, and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to hear the male blue grouse hooting. As I was setting the anchor on the beach, I heard birds hooting, so I headed up into the woods.

I followed a trail I’d used deer hunting. I headed towards the nearest hooter. I was under the trees the bird was hooting from sooner than I’d expected. I thought he was up one tree. Then he hooted again, and it seemed like a different tree. I kept looking and looking, and then saw him. Lower in the tree than I expected. A dark silouette perched near on a branch, near the tree trunk. I worked my way around until I had a clean line of fire. I traded out the slug I keep in the chamber of my single shot 12 gauge just in case bruno is out early in the year for some bird shot. I fired, and the bird whirled down out of the tree. I admired the large bird, with the orange patch over his eye. I put him in my pack, and headed up hill to the next bird hooting.

This bird was 1/3 or more up the steep part of the ridge, so a good climb. I finally reached the trees the bird was in. I spotted this one sooner than the first bird – again, well down in the tree canopy, on a branch near the trunk. I aimed to shoot and had a hemlock branch in the way. I almost pulled the trigger anyway, and stopped myself in disgust. I thought “did you really hike all the way up here only to miss this bird, have him fly away, and waste the effort?” So I climbed up higher until I had a clear shot from a good shooting position. Then I watched the bird hoot awhile before I dropped him and put him in my pack.

As high as I was on the hill, the breeze was loud enough that I couldn’t hear more birds hooting, so I figured I had to side-hill until I got close enough to hear another. On the way, I came to a ravine that I had to descend down into and follow the creek, rather than risk crossing a deadfall across the creek, as it was a long, long way down. I walked along the creek, which didn’t have an uncomfortable amount of water as most of the snow had already melted and we’d had little rain of late. I came on an unusual sight for our part of the Tongass: a cedar branch. I looked up the side of the ravine to see where the branch came from, and finally picked out the smaller cedar tree. I saw another cedar tree along the way, making 3 cedar trees total I’ve seen on this side hill.

I worked my way down and out of the mini-canyon. I crossed the edge of a muskeg and was headed back into the woods when a grouse flushed from a dead snag in front of me, and flew into a nearby spruce tree 10 yards away. Scared the crap out of me. The hooters almost always do this if they flush from near or at ground level- they do not fly far. I worked my way into a clear shooting alley and dropped my third bird of the day. I put him in the pack, and was starting to feel the weight of the birds now.

I only had one shell left now, other than the 2 bear slugs. I heard a hooter below, and headed to the copse of trees the hoots appeared to be coming from. Then I heard a bird off to my right which seemed close, so I turned off across a muskeg and headed to that bird. When I heard him hoot again, I realized the bird was far off, so I turned back towards the earlier bird. Just as I entered the woods from the muskeg, a hooter was running along the ground off to my right. The bird froze as they always do, and I dropped my 4th bird. As I didn’t hear the bird I was after, I’m assuming this one had been up in a tree and come down to the ground. Getting 2 of 4 birds near the ground rather than up in the trees was unusual – it was like the birds were running all over and rutting like deer do.

Lots and lots of deer sign in the woods, but I didn’t see any deer. They had nipped about every skunk cabbage bud off everywhere I went. I didn’t see any fresh bear sign.

When I got out to the beach, it was a bit breezy so I decided to stay another night at the cabin rather than crossing in a lump with the oil light blinking on my dash (turns out this was just an oil change reminder, when I looked it up in the manual at home). I cleaned the grouse at the cabin, using a technique a college buddy Eric Sjodin and Buddy Bender showed me while we attended college at UA-Fairbanks. The grouse is laid down on its back, and you place a foot at the base of each wing where it attaches to the body. Then you grab a leg in each hand and very slowly pull up on the bird. This will pull the innards and head with the legs, leaving the breast, mostly skinned, behind. The innards and head are then easily separated from the drumsticks.

I cooked up two birds when I got home. I forgot how much meat is on hooters. There was enough left over to make soup, plus freeze the other two birds.

Was supposed to go again today. I’ve been working as a spill responder for the regional oil spill response team while I’ve been home. The Princess Kathleen, a small (by today’s standards) cruise ship that sank in 80 to 120 feet of water near town in 1952 or so, has begun starting to leach some oil. So, the state and Coast Guard are overseeing pumping the tanks on the wreck. The oil spill response team has been monitoring the site, as well as assessing what kind of response would be needed with regard to boom, etc., to protect various bays and coves that have fish bearing streams dumping into them. I discovered I had a sliver in my eye this morning, so knew I better get it looked at after the oil spill response work, so I went to the emergency room instead of hooter hunting after work. After a 2.5 hour wait, the P.A. got the sliver out with a swipe of a swab on a stick, and that was that. Back to Prudhoe on Monday. Weather forecast calling for the
temps to reach 20 degrees by late in the week, so I’ll be lucky to get my whole 2 weeks in this hitch.

Mark Stopha
Alaska Wild Salmon Company
4455 N. Douglas Hwy
Juneau, AK 99801

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