Voices from the river

Voices from the River: Grouse

By Eric Booton

It’s early and it takes some encouragement to get my wife out of bed and ready to roll. I amazingly manage to botch the breakfast burritos in the microwave and spill her coffee all over the kitchen. It’s a morning reminiscent of most summer or fall weekend in the Booton house, except the only cases that found their way into the car are the rifle cases, no fly rods this time.

I grew up with a fishing rod in hand and a wide network of friends and family members to learn from, not that learning was always easy. Similarly, I grew up with guns and loved going to the range, but without any close family members who regularly hunted, I did not have opportunity to hunt myself. Like fishing, hunting requires time and mentorship, two things I haven’t been great at piecing together just yet.

Our recent bird hunting pursuits remind me of the frustrating hours spent untangling double nymph rig messes from the banks of Colorado trout streams while learning to fly fish; I caught few fish back then and every fish on was cause for serious celebration.

Defeat is part of learning and success is most rewarding after surmounting failure. Our self-led journey for a successful bird hunt has been a failure thus far, but it has been rich in many ways and mimics the angler’s mantra, “The worst day on the river beats the best day in the office.”

The mountain air is always welcomed. It’s pleasant to explore the trailheads and stands of trees that a fly rod can’t show me. And it’s exciting to stalk and decipher the habits of a new species.

As luck would have it, my wife and I both finally managed to each take down a Ruffed Grouse. We found the first grouse almost immediately and identified the need to practice our stealth skills while tracking down the second. Fortunately for us, the second grouse was less than sly while rummaging its way through a ravine full of dry leaves. During the hunt we spotted a wolf who was also tracking down it’s breakfast and on the way back we spotted two more grouse, but determined two was enough for us.

I find distinct parallels between my limited time spent hunting and my years of fly fishing. Fishing and hunting are both past times and passions that instill an appreciation for the natural world around you, the native flora and fauna that call it home, and an understanding of the need for healthy and intact habitat for the survival of the species we chase. They are reliant on public lands and access to them. There is no “shoot and release” when it comes to hunting, but there are similar conservation ethics that can be adopted to show respect for the animal and its sacrifice for you. In the fight to defend public lands and protect and conserve habitat, hunters and anglers are ideal allies.

Having dedicated so many weekends to wading through Alaska’s finest trout streams it is satisfying to explore my nearby public lands through a fresh lens.

Eric Booton is the sportsmen’s outreach coordinator for TU’s Alaska Program. He lives and works in Anchorage.

By Chris Hunt.