An annual trip to Eastern Washington in search of elusive birds is all about family and tradition
Fall is to hunters as summer is to school children. It’s the time of year where all the offseason scouting and anticipation finally pays off and you get to try and put a tag on that magnificent Wapiti or that elusive buck deer. Maybe you’re packing into your spike camp miles deep in the backcountry. Maybe you’re combing through your pack and making sure everything is where it should be for the morning. Maybe you’re cooking a jetboil meal on opening day eve. After all, that is what September signifies for us hunters right? Probably for most, but for me, the common hunting term “Is It September Yet?” means something a little different.
Ever since I can remember, my dad, brothers, and I, have loaded up the truck and made the 4 1/2-hour drive to Eastern Washington for the September 1 opener. I guess I should specify what species. We make the nearly 300-mile drive for… grouse! Yes, you heard that correctly. We spend a day’s travel in hopes of bagging a handful of chicken sized fowl. But to us, its well worth the price of gas, and I’ll try and capture why.
It’s hard to explain, but as soon as I step foot out of our old Toyota pickup into the wooded country of Eastern Washington something within me changes. It’s like there is a sort of autonomic switch engrained within my soul that immediately changes my mood. It’s therapeutic.
We start off into the woods. We walk, walk, and walk some more. Through creek beds, through alder patches, on the edges of the rocky cliff country. These places are where we talk about everything. Men as a whole, in my opinion, struggle in talking about important topics and feelings. These woods strip away all those insecurities for me. This is where I am able to have some of the most important and productive conversations I have ever had with my family.
These woods are where we joke around with each other. Not to say we don’t do that normally, but throwing jabs at your brothers, all the while marveling at the beautiful country around you, adds another element. We hike, we compete, and we hunt. If we’re lucky, we’ll bag a few grouse along the way. But if we don’t, the trip is none the worse. There is a reason we refer to it as “hiking with a shotgun.” The harvesting of game is secondary.
This year I was able to bring my son along on our annual trip. To my delight, he had an incredible trip. He hiked, helped collect grouse that we were lucky enough to harvest, chewed sunflower seeds (shell and all, but that’s another story), and learned a true appreciation for hunting and harvesting game. The first blue grouse that we bagged, we let him go and find it. When he finally found it, he crouched down, rested his hand on the birds feathered breast and said, “so beautiful”, and that makes me feel like I’m doing something right. You see, these woods are about family. These woods are about tradition. And I can’t wait to make the 300-mile drive for Forest Chicken again next year.