There surely are grouse hunting regional “cultures” and family traditions. Hunting with a dog is one such tradition, but it’s not for everyone.
In Partridge Country, the latest film from Project Upland, Will Bradley, of Natural Born Hunter, fights his way through briars and pickers to explore one family tradition in New England: hunting ruffed grouse and woodcock without the help of dogs.
Local grouse hunter Dennis Vallee leads Bradley and friends through the mountainous New England backcountry that he has hunted since he was 16 years old. It is beautiful but tough country, and that is part of its appeal to these hunters.
Grouse hunting isn’t easy hunting, with dogs or without. But Vallee explains that he prefers the quietness, solitude and more personal connection he gets by walking-up grouse on his own. “I get to learn the grouse,” he says. “The dog, on the other hand, gets to learn the grouse.”
I find it interesting that Vallee refers to ruffed grouse as “partridge”. “Partridge hunting?” he says. “I call it partridge hunting.” That’s what they call it in New England.
I took special note of that colloquialism because “partridge hunting” is also what they call it in northern Wisconsin, where I grew up hunting grouse. At least that was how my elders referred to it. Although where Vallee says “pahtridge hunting” with his New England accent, my Wisconsin grandfather emphasized the hard R, with “partridge”.
My family also didn’t hunt grouse with dogs. We walked them up just like Vallee does. But not because of any sense of disapproval for their use – I’d love to hunt with a dog sometime – but more because of simple practicality and circumstance.
As fascinating as regional differences or family traditions may be, there is no doubt that grouse hunters from every part of the country have in common the most important things: a love for the birds, the challenge they present and the places they inhabit.
I’m betting that even Dennis Vallee would not turn down an opportunity to get out and chase “pahtridge” with a dog if invited. Any opportunity to be grouse hunting is a welcome opportunity.