Hunting for Dummies, Part 2

By , October 26, 2010

Yesterday I told about my incredible luck on Sunday, managing to bag a grouse above the dooryard despite many missteps.

Every year we  hear sooty (formerly known as blue) grouse around the homestead. Their deep drumming call gives them the casual name “hooters.” They’re all around, but we’ve only seen one on one other occasion, when Aly and I flushed one up on the slope above the cabin one Christmas eve. My excitement over having a grouse come into the dooryard unexpectedly almost ruined my chances at bagging it. Luckily, the bird was even stupider than I.

sooty grouse bagged above the homestead dooryard.

Skill or dumb luck? Mark and his sooty grouse (Photo: Aly Zeiger).

If it hadn’t obligingly sat still while I peppered it with air rifle pellets, I wouldn’t have gotten it. However, it showed fatal patience, allowing me to kill it with my too-low firepower.

What then? Luckily, I’d talked to friends about how to skin grouse. They advised that the best, fastest method is to stand on its wings, grab its feet and pull sharply upward. That will skin the breasts, which will fall off into your waiting hands.

I have a few things to say to those friends, now that I’ve tried this . . . .

For one thing, I think they’re used to smaller birds. This grouse was big enough that by the time I’d pulled it tight, I began to lose the “plant” of my feet on the wings. The wings would slip out from under my boots, and I’d have to try again. Eventually, it worked, but instead of being left with two easy breast pieces, I had the stripped breast, two wings, and a collar of feathers where the head had been!

Luckily, Aly attended me with our ulu, an Eskimo skinning knife, in hand. While I spread the pieces, she severed the joints. We wiped away the feathers, and eventually had two clean pieces of meat.

We thought about preparing the grouse for lunch for our guests, but decided it would be best not to get experimental in front of witnesses. At dinner, Michelle cut the breast meat into bite-sized bits, dredged them in flour and onion powder, and fried them lightly in olive oil. She served it over rice, with a sprinkling of chopped almonds and dried cranberries.

We’d been warned that grouse is too strong for many people’s tastes, and that they are often tough. We found this one delicious, and tender enough. We couldn’t have asked for a better meal to drop into our laps—after a few more or less well-placed shots!

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