October 11, 2012
Choosing a Shotgun for Hunting Mountain Grouse at 10,000 Feet
By Phil Bourjaily
This week I was in Utah chasing blue and ruffed grouse across mountain tops. We caught up with a few and in the process I learned a lot. Mostly, I learned that if you live at 750 feet above sea level and you go grouse hunting at 10,000 feet it wears you out even if you have been diligently going to your flatland gym three to four times a week. I was told that after three days I would get used to the altitude but that wasn’t much solace on a three-day hunt.
Mountain grouse don’t see nearly as many people as do the birds I have hunted in Minnesota and Iowa. The biggest difference in terms of wariness is that mountain grouse don’t fly as far when they flush so they are easier to mark down and follow up. They also live in fairly reasonable cover: aspens and some low understory, not the thickets you sometimes have to fight your way through where I am used to hunting them. Blue grouse live in the pines which are not difficult to walk through. On the other hand, mountain grouse are few and far between and they have a formidable home-field advantage.
Blues grouse are bigger than ruffed grouse and live higher up in the pines although you do find both species near one another at times. When you find one blue grouse you have usually found several. Blue grouse tend to flush and go downhill which can make shooting them difficult.
Which brings us to mountain grouse guns. In the interests of full disclosure, Benelli (that photo is of Benelli’s George Thompson with a mountain ruff) was among the hosts of the trip. That does not change the fact that if I were to go mountain grouse hunting again my first choice of shotgun would be a lightweight 12 or 20 gauge semiauto not unlike, say, a Benelli Ultralight or M2.
You want a gun that is easy to carry; one that won’t make you cry if you drop it on some rocks; and one that will shoot three times reliably and be quick to reload in case you run into a gaggle (or whatever you call a group of blue grouse) of blues. The choke would be Improved Cylinder and the ammunition would contain good quality 6 or 7 ½ pellets. The gun could also be a Beretta 391, a Franchi 48 AL or a Winchester SX3. You could also be really cool yet still deadly and take a 16 gauge Ithaca 37 or Winchester Model 12 on your mountain grouse hunt.
If I were toting a double gun it would be my SKB 100, a 20 gauge side by side that weighs under 6 pounds. I bought it used for not much money and it had been abused enough by its previous owners that I could probably live with whatever scars it brought back from the mountains.