Mountain grouse and fall colors

By Brian Baxter


The term upland means the higher ground of a region or district, an elevated region, and / or land area lying above the level where water flows or where floods occur. Upland hunting is an American term for a form of bird hunting in which the hunter pursues upland birds including quail, pheasant, grouse, woodcock, prairie chicken, chukar, grey partridge and others.

The traditional sense of upland game bird hunting refers to using pointing or flushing dogs. Some recommended brand shotguns utilized for this type of hunting are Benelli, Winchester, Browning, Citori, Savage, Mossberg, Franchi, and Ithaca.

In our beautiful corner of the world in northwest Montana, the most popular and most common upland game birds are mountain grouse. The Montana regulations state that these birds may be taken with a shotgun, no larger than a ten gage, a long, recurve or compound bow and arrow, a crossbow, or a firearm. The season runs from September first to January first 2020, and the daily bag limit is three. There are three main species of grouse in our locales. They are Ruffed, Blue, and Spruce (Franklin) grouse. The Franklin’s are named after John Franklin, who was an arctic explorer and led expeditions in the Northwest Territories in the 1820’s. Meriwether Lewis also described a subspecies of the spruce grouse that he observed in 1805 in the mountains of the Columbia Basin Drainage.

In our area, the Spruce grouse are usually found in the more dense forest types such as Alpine fir, Engelman spruce, and / or Lodgepole pine types or mixes. These grouse are native to Montana as all mountain grouse are, and watching a male spruce grouse drum and display can be quite a sight. Males are gray and black above, with a black throat and a well defined black breast patch bordered with white tipped feathers. The scarlet eye comb really shows up during display. Blue grouse are the largest of Montana’s three species of mountain grouse. Both sexes have long, square tails which are un-barred. Blues can be found far from timber during early fall, but winter at higher elevations in conifer stands. Generally they are found at higher elevations in our area. Males have slate colored upper parts, white based neck feathers around the air sacs, and yellow-orange eye combs.

Ruffed grouse are fairly common in our woods, and frequent dense, brushy mixed conifer tree cover, and are also frequently found along stream bottoms and near water sources. The sexes are similar, with a long, fan-shaped tail that has a broad, black band near the tip. Both male and female have neck ruffs, crested heads, and brownish bodies. Males have a small orange-red eye comb. In winter, all mountain grouse develop conspicuous fringes called pectinations on the sides of their toes, which serve them as snowshoes to help increase the surface area of the toes and support the birds on snow, as well as to help grip branches. Tim Linehan and guides of Linehan Outfitting Company in the Yaak, have been successful in their grouse hunting endeavors this season, and have reported taking some beautiful Ruffed grouse with unique chocolate colored tail bands. LOC also offer grouse hunting trips and know that game well. Folks can contact them at 406-295-4872, or email them at info@fishmontana.com.. Check their website for updated information