The weather is starting to break and I will be out with the dogs, bird hunting soon. Grouse season ends the end of February so I have some time left. To me, walking through the aspen and apple tree thickets and maybe even flushing a bird with my dogs, is comparable to fishing during an Ephemerella hatch of mayflies; a glorious day to be alive.
For Christmas, my brother sent me a couple of great books to read while the minus 20 degree weather keeps me in the house. One was “Grouse Cover”, a complete set of newsletters written by Mr. George King, the other: “A Passion for Grouse”, which is a collection of articles, written of course, about the King of Birds; the Ruffed Grouse.
Mr. King’s newsletter “Grouse Cover” started in October 1969. His one page, double sided newsletter was written solely by George King for grouse hunters. In his newsletters he covered season dates and bag limits by states, magazine articles, grouse photos and prints that were available, books about the bird, hunting dogs and grouse habitat management. Mr. King penned the newsletter, printed, packed letters and mailed them out with his family, Linda, Kathy and his Grouse widow, Penny.
Much of the costs for this feathered publication he bore out of his own pockets when he first got started. His goal was to educate, inform and build camaraderie of fellow grouse hunters. As his mailings grew, he slowly ventured into keeping a subscriber list. In 1971 his subscribers totaled more than 3000, covering numerous states. A years’ worth of “Grouse Cover” lore and tales, sold for a whopping $2.00.
George King’s passion for this bird carried over into starting a fraternity or society of Ruffed Grouse hunters, known as the Ancient and Honorable Order of Brush Worn Partridge Hunters, A.H.O.B.W.P.H. A parchment certificate with the A.H.O.B.W.P.H. code and the member’s name was sent to every raspberry patch and thorn bush co-conspirator of the grouse cover world. These guys were known locally as the “Brush Worns”.
A blue background patch with white lettering and a gold colored Ruffed Grouse patch was later designed and sent to members. Brush Worn members included all backgrounds in life, blue collar steel mill workers in PA, doctors and professional writers, including Burton Spiller, who wrote the book Grouse Feathers. Frank Woolner and H.G, “Tap” Tapply who was the editor of Field and Stream magazine were also members and fellow hunting buddies.
In the book: “A Passion for Grouse”, Mr. George King states, “ Now that my grouse hunting days are over, I sometimes reflect on how wonderful it was that I discovered grouse hunting in the first place. And I feel grateful that the rich traditions have been kept alive by getting passed from one generation of hunters to the next. Once in a while, when I was hunting in a beautiful covert, I could almost feel a kinship with the weathered men of long ago who hunted places just like this. Now I am one of those old men. I like thinking that somewhere out there, some younger hunter might feel that same connection with me and with all the old timers from the other side of the hill”.
I recently wrote to George to let him know how much I appreciated his book, his writings and his love and passion for the Ruffed Grouse and passing down tradition.
A few weeks later, forgetting I even sent the letter, I received an e-mail from Peggy King.
A connection was made with this man through his writings and I find myself grieving for a friend I never met or knew personally. Only recently, have I discovered this man and his passion for grouse. I’ll always remember these words he wrote. His advice is to take some time and” Soak up some Wisdom”. Take time to sit by that tree and enjoy the moment in the woods with your dog and friends. Getting a grouse is not the only reason to hunt! I agree!
I have developed a kinship for him, and all those other old timers on the other side of the hill.
The world of Ruffed Grouse, Ruffy or (Bonasa umbellus), lost a true friend this past September. Mr. George King of Greensburg Pennsylvania passed away due to a long illness.
Mrs. King let me know that George was cremated. His ashes will be buried alongside the grave of his favorite dog, “Boy”, an English Setter. They will be layed to rest under a 100 year old oak tree.
The tradition of hunting, a hunter’s world, or a trout and a fly fisherman’s world is something we all need to teach the next generation. Mr. George King has set the bar for all of us. We all need to carry on the tradition and pay it forward. I will cherish my Order of Brush Worn Partridge Hunter’s patch and some day it will be handed down to a deserving young Grouse Hunter. Thank you, Peggy.
On Tuesday, Feb. 11, Trout Unlimited we will be giving a presentation on rod building at 7 p.m. at Gander Mountain. Everything from new tangled graphite to antique bamboo.
Rich Redman is a retired District Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and an avid outdoorsman. His column will appear regularly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.