For hunters, some things never change

Well, another deer season is in the books. For all those hunters who were successful, remember to file your kill reports as required by law.

And if you had a DMAP permit, you must file a report whether you harvested a deer or not. Failure to do so could result in our being denied a DMAP permit next season.

Because I tend to do quite a bit of walking and still hunting during deer season, I often flush some grouse during my deer-hunting routine.

On good years, double and triple flushes seemed to be the rule some days, especially near the obvious food sources that grouse frequent during the winter. Locating a fair population of late-season grouse during deer season was always an encouraging sign, if for no other reason than grouse populations are known to be cyclic.

That reconnaissance often resulted in a couple of days of enjoyable grouse hunting during December and January.

I remember those days of my early 20s when I became enamored with grouse and grouse hunting. Back then, success usually came in direct proportion to the amount of ground I tramped on a given day. Most days, my 20-something legs always seemed up to the challenge of carrying me up and down those nasty ridges in the quest to flush one more bird.

Forty years later, my strategy toward grouse now entails hunting smarter rather than harder. Experience, and what little wisdom goes with it, has taught me to pick my spots and work them slowly and more methodically than I did as a young hunter. I’ve learned to weave my way around and through the cover in an attempt to confuse the birds just enough to make a mistake when they finally choose to flush and offer me a good shot.

On the plus side, I am a much better wing shot now than I was in my 20s, so I hit a greater percentage of the grouse I shoot at now than in my earlier days. But I freely acknowledge that even now the ratio of shots fired to grouse bagged is still tilted heavily in favor of the birds.

That is fine. The sheer excitement of hearing that pounding of wings and watching one of those russet rockets make another escape by twisting its way through and impossible tangle of grapevines, briars and branches is far more enjoyable than the weight of a dead grouse in the game bag.

And on those frequent occasions that I shoot and miss, I am always able to smile, knowing that noble bird has won a much greater victory.

But this year, I failed to flush a single grouse during deer season. And it certainly wasn’t for lack of tramping through some usually productive grouse cover. Sadly, that situation is no surprise because our state bird is in trouble. Big trouble. The Game Commission has acknowledged the drastic downturn in our native grouse populations by eliminating the January segment of the late grouse season. This year, grouse hunters will get just two weeks of late grouse hunting, starting tomorrow and ending on Dec. 23.

The Game Commission seems to believe that our grouse populations are being devastated by West Nile Virus, a disease that is transmitted by mosquitos and affects certain species of birds. For those of us who care about ruffed grouse, they have a video about this on their website, pgc. On the right side of the homepage under “Recent Videos,” click on the “Ruffed Grouse” link. Let me warn you, what it presents is pretty depressing with regards to the future of ruffed grouse. Don’t forget, the Game Commission stood by and watched our wild pheasants disappear, telling us it was “loss of habitat.”

Now, they are telling us that mosquitos are wiping out our grouse. And then there is that CWD thing that is going to devastate our deer herd. What are we paying these folks for?

Moving a few blocks down Elmerton Avenue, I would like to give a small tip of the hat to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission that thankfully did not follow the example of the Game Commission and charge their customers $6 for a copy of the 2018 “Pennsylvania Fishing Summary,” so we will still get a copy as usual when we buy our new fishing license.

Of course, PFBC Executive Director, John Arway, continues to lobby for a fishing license increase or that agency will have to curtail many of the programs and services we anglers are paying them to provide.

If they do that, all the PFBC employees will still get their generous state-mandated salary increases, benefits package and retirement benefits while those of us paying the bills get the fuzzy end of the lollipop. Some things never change.