Hooters are here

sooty_grouse - alaskaI drove up to Eaglecrest, our ski area, on the nice sunny evening last night. I stopped about half way up the road, turned off the car, and nothing. Near the top, I did the same thing. And they were there. The hooters were hooting. Unlike last year, when I cross country skied part of the way, xtra tuff boots part of the way, and snow shoes part of the way for one bird, this year would be all xtra tuffs and there was hardly any snow.

I headed out this morning with my side-by-side 12 ga broken down in my pack, a couple granola bars and a full waterbottle. It probably took about 30 to 45 minutes to traverse first down to Fish Creek then up the side of the valley. When I came out of the trees above the creek, I swore I heard several birds hooting. The side hill has fingers of spruce and hemlock trees growing up to the ridge top with avanlanche snow shoots of alder, devils club, berry bushes and grass in between. I climbed up the nearest group of spruce, and figured, I’d get that bird then cross the shoot to the next birds hooting. After I a steep climb, I got the first bird. Then I started across the shoot towards the next finger of trees. But try as I might, I could not hear any more birds hooting.

I finally concluded the birds I’d heard was only one bird, and the echos sounded like other birds\nlI could hear birds hooting on the other side of the valley, so I headed back down. When I got to the bottom of the finger, I heard hooting on this side of the valley again, so walked over to the next shoot, and up and up again to the next bird.

Just as I got near the tree the birds was hooting in, a big bird flushed. I thought it was either a female on the ground or a male was hooting on the ground, which they sometimes do. They almost always flush to a low branch and they don’t go far. I think I’ve always been able to find a flushed bird in a tree. I did this time, got the bird.

I heard another further up the finger, so I kept hiking. Up and up. I’ll never climb this high and steep hunting for a deer. You never know if they’ll be one up there or not. But hunting hooters, they just keep calling and I keep climbing, knowing they’ll be there if I keep going..Like the last bird, as I neared the tree I heard the hooting, a big bird flushed. This time, right after the flush, the male kept hooting like nothing happened. This time I was guessing it was a female on the ground. I carefully made my way up higher and you really have to be careful when climbing in really steep country because if the bird lands in a lower branch of a tree you climb above, they can be really close when you see them.

When I did see the bird, it looked nervous, but hopped up on another limb for a clear shot. I was closer than all the rest of the birds I’d shoot today. When I fired, the bird flushed and cartwheeled down to a lower branch. It shook around there for a time then flushed down the hill lower. I figured I’d find it after I got the male, who just kept on hooting. I finally got him. I spent a long time and never saw sign of the bird I shot at first. Funny thing was, I never saw a feather fly, and anytime you hit these grouse there are always feathers. Not sure where I hit her, if I even did, but hopefully she’s okay.

I figured I was way ahead of the game with three birds and didn’t hear anymore so thought I’d better head back. I had a long, long walk ahead of me.

As I headed down, there it was. Another bird. Hooting in the same direction as the first one I’d got. It was uphill even more, but first I’d have to cross down and up the shoot in between. Even with my legs burning and knees aching, I knew I would not leave him behind. So down and up the shoot I went, then the climb up the finger, higher and higher. Dang, I hope that bird is not on top. But he wasn’t. Didn’t take long to spot and an easy shot put number 4 in the pack. I’d only taken 5 shell – 5 birds is the daily limit – so now I was leaving weather another bird hooted or not.

I could see my truck and the distance I had to cover. Somehow, that made it seem like a lot longer hike out. I took my time, side-hilling down through shoots of alder and devils club. I crossed back over the creek, where I discovered a beautiful stone bridge someone had built, then back up to the cross country ski trails and finally to the truck.

I guzzled the rest of my water on the drive home, long overdue as I was dehydrated and not sweating anymore
I heard another hunter on one of the other hillsides. I heard his first shot after my first shot. His second shot after my second shot. And so on. It was taking that hunter about the same amount of time to get from one bird to another. So there were 2 out of shape and overweight hunters out on a sunny Monday. I wonder if he missed a bird, too.