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Surviving a Grouse Attack

May 26, 2008.

On Sunday, May 25, I had one of the most bizarre experiences I've had in two decades of time spent in wild places -- a career that includes weirdness ranging from getting drunk with bears, to leaping over rattlesnakes, to close-up encounters with wolves, to pot-smoking native sheep guides.

Hiking in the foothills around my home near Denver, early on the sunday morning of Memorial Day weekend, I was stalked, charged, and repeatedly attacked by .... a grouse.

A Dusky Grouse, similar to the one that tried
to kill and eat me.

I had gotten up at 4:30am to do a training hike for my upcoming sheep hunt. I typically start at the top of the mountain park near my home, hike down to the bottom of the mountain, then back up. The hike is about 7 miles roundtrip, with about a 2,000 foot change in elevation each way, and takes 3.5 hours.

I was nearing the end of the hike when I saw two grouse hopping through the woods. I've only seen grouse 3 or 4 times in the 8 years I've lived in this area, so stopped to enjoy this rare treat.

I was about to start moving again when one of the grouse hopped on the trail and started walking right towards me. I rolled my eyes, thinking this grouse was about as dumb as the other grouse I have hunted in Colorado.

Somewhat to my surprise, the grouse made a bee-line straight at me, opening its beak and making a silent "hah hah hah hah" noise as it closed the distance. I eventually had to raise my boot to deflect it away, as it seemed intent on coming up and pecking me.

The spectacle of a 3-pound forest chicken attacking a grown man was hilarious, and I found myself laughing loudly as the grouse started to circle me, beak open and continuing its "hah hah hah" threat.

My first thought was just to step on the crazy bird and kill it, as I love to eat grouse. But it was clearly out of season, and I figured the local population was pretty fragile, so I quickly decided that I wanted to avoid harming the bird.

I tried to put some distance between me and my antagonist, but it followed me up the trail. I really didn't want to hurt the bird, but it was nipping at my ankles and quickly putting me in a position where squishing it with my boot was going to become the right move.

I actually started running to try to get away from it -- A 200-pound grown man, with a bulky 40-pound pack on, sprinting up the trail, laughing hysterically, shrieking like a school girl (though with much more profanity) for the bird to stop, with a 3-pound forest chicken running behind me, nipping at my heels.

The pace of the pursuit slowed but did not stop, and I picked up a 3-foot downed branch to fend off the crazy bird as I backed down the trail.

After about 150 yards of harassment, the bird apparently decided I had had enough. He stopped and watched me disappear around a bend.

All told, I had kicked him about 6 times in the head and gave him a hard prod to the body about 10 times. None of this seemed to deter him in anyway.

I laughed all the way back to the truck, and began to formulate possible explanations -- Mad Grouse disease? Rabies? Maybe a nest in the area that he (she) was defending?

So, keep on your toes the next time you're hunting grouse, apparently the most aggressive and predatory of upland birds. The tables can turn quickly, as the hunter becomes the hunted.

Epilogue: I hiked the same trail on monday, this time with a camera in my pack, but did not run in to the grouse again. I was jumpy as hell, however, every time I saw a crow land on the trail ahead of me.

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