Jeff and I started hunting for blue grouse together nearly twenty years ago, having met each other our rookie years in the courtroom.  In fact we met as I spied Jeff trying to hide an issue of Shooting Sportsman in his client’s file, as we sat next to one other on the barrister’s seats waiting for the judge to call the cases of the day.  We starting talking and I found out his father, Roger Hill, wrote one of my favorite books, Fly Fishing the South Platte.

Jeff went on to say this was a blessing and a curse, as his father was a retired nuclear physicist and that he never got to enjoy soccer and things like that on the weekends, as his father simply left every weekend day saying, “I am going fishing [or shooting], do you want to come along?”  There being no alternative except staying home alone, Jeff obliged and became a serious fly-tier, angler, and shooter of his own.  We immediately started hunting together, a journey down the sporting road which lasted many years and which I hope will continue when he finds time away from his new family.  His dog at the time was a hard-headed English Setter pup, which matched well in the field with my Britanny of field-trial lines who was on his first year afield.

After many years of driving dirt roads and discovering dead ends on maps, we discovered the promised land of blue grouse together and promised to never divulge its location to any outsiders, or any other grouse covert we discovered together, for that matter, under threat of death or sending sultry clients to deal with such indiscretions.  After one of our first days on the mountain in the shadows of the mountain, we found a few birds but only harvested one, after many miles of walking.  We had just returned, exhausted, to the car, after scouring the mountain and covering its every inch with our big ranging dogs.  In those days we then sat enjoying our sandwiches in the truck, before I discovered the elaborate French picnics which we can at least find some solace in after days such as this one.  We sat there in silence, as we ate.

Two old men, with shadows of unshaven beards, came walking down the mountain, both in blue jeans just in front of two old, fat Labradors.  An unusual sight to say the least, as this steep and high-altitude country is not generally suited for old men or fat dogs, and they were walking down nearly the same path we had just covered with our two big-ranging dogs.  The Lab in the lead went on point and then the other Lab backed–that’s right, pointing Labradors.   Three blues got up, the first guy shooting a perfect double and the other taking down the bird which flew on his side.  Without a word, the Lab held to shot as the other one continued to back him, and then the first Lab retrieved all three birds, the two to the hand of the one guy and the one to the hand of other.  How the hell did the dog know which guy shot which birds?  I said to Jeff, “God dammit, did you see that?”  He gulped his sandwich and replied, “Yep.” 

They tucked the birds in their vests, as the four of them waddled down the hill, just past our truck as they waved, with the slow pace of hillbillies in the hot Southern sun if they were on a gentleman’s quail hunt, but they looked more like they just fell off a gypsy caravan and ended up homeless in these hills of Colorado.  We heard more shots down the mountain which were interrupted by curse words from our truck.  On the way down the mountain in our truck, we saw their camp and were compelled to stop in to find out what in the hell was their secret.

They invited us to their campfire lunch, next to a beaten-up fifth-wheel trailer, which was hard to imagine how they pulled that bucket of bolts up this bumpy two-tracked road.  Their lunch featured only what they called “Grouse MacNuggets” a simple recipe of blue grouse dipped in milk, then flour, then egg wash, then bread-crumbs or, more likely, the good-ole American favorite “Shake-n-Bake.”  As they offered some grouse nuggets to us, they explained that they were old ski-bums who worked on the Ski Cats grooming the slopes during the season, but forced to claim unemployment compensation during the summers.  They spent the entire month camped on this mountain, shooting these grouse, over a span of several decades now.  Thinking upon this comment, it became hard to imagine how there were any grouse left on the moor, a point which we often later cursed them for as well, as they have since moved on to greener pastures, perhaps having nearly shot out this mountain.

We labeled them “the blue grouse hippies” and still to this day, we wish we had the balls to quit our jobs during shooting season to become them.  Their recipe remains my favorite for blue grouse, complete with honey for a dipping sauce. 

My buddies have bumper stickers now made for our gang entitled, “The Blue Grouse Hippies,” so it has become something of a legendary title in these parts.  See    http://theuplandequation.blogspot.com/  [Bumper Sticker photo courtesy of our friend, Andy Wayment, at that site].