Re: Grouse flushing out of range
It is hard to say why a grouse will flush wild one day and hold tight the next...and 10 grouse flushes are a small sample size. I would say in a good day of hunting, I may move say 25 birds. Even on a good day when they are holding tight, I may only get a shot at maybe 5-6 birds (granted some of the birds I have up will be groups of up to 5 birds at a time). My point is that even on a good day when I think the birds are holding tight, you still don't get many shots. My setter is very cautious and rarely if ever bumps a bird so I am getting a lot of chances. Some days my dog is pointing them at a long distance and we just can't get close to them. Some days if, for example, she points 10 birds, 8 of them we can't get near and 2 of them blow up in my face.
What do I think are the factors? It may be hunting pressure...it may be the weather. I think grouse hold a lot tighter on calm days rather than windy days. I think they hold better on rainy days compared to dry days. I think if you move quietly and stop a lot they get nervous and flush further away than when moving through the cover at an even pace.
The type of cover you are hunting may play a factor...some of the areas I hunt are very thick (high stem density of trees), but if there is sparse ground cover (no downed trees, brush piles, ect. or flat topography) the birds as a general rule will not hold as tight as opposed to cover that has a lot of ground cover (i.e. trees tops) and uneven topography like hillsides or even lots of old dirt piles next to a logging road that were made when they built the road.
You can take all of this for what it is worth but I always thought the key was finding thick, high-density stem cover where the loggers left a lot of "junk" on the ground rather than totally clearing the land when it was logged. Another key is finding a lot of birds (I know, easier said than done) since the more birds you can come into contact with the better your odds of getting a couple to hold tight for you.
Another thing I have observed over my many years of chasing grouse is that a lot of the birds I get that hold very tight (i.e. blow up in your face) are mature birds. I really think as a general rule, young birds are more "jumpy" then adult birds. If you think about it, it makes some sense. A grouse that takes to the air is much more vulnerable to predators as now it is spotted easier, is expending more energy and is now taken out of his "comfort zone" and displaced maybe to a place it is not as familiar with. A bird that gets up and flies at every little sound, IMO, puts themselves in a lot greater danger. Also, there have been many times I have walked right past a grouse only to have my setter come around and point the bird right where I just walked through.
Hunting pressure may also play a role...I never believed this until last year just before deer season, my buddies and I were at their lease they hunt for deer. Nobody grouse hunts it that they know of. We were messing around by the fire outside and drinking a few cold ones. I had my setter along and there was a couple of decent sized clearcuts right behind the fire pit. My buddy says lets go take a swing around the clearcuts with the dog. He said they see grouse there all the time. So we took a walk and my setter pointed about 8 grouse or so. Not really a big deal for me but the amazing part was that these birds sat so tight it was like hunting pheasants (no offense to the pheasant hunters). To me it was obvious that these birds were not pressured by hunting at all.
Also, I like using a bell on my dog as I do believe the constant sound of the bell will put birds more at ease since they know where the sound is as opposed to when everything gets quiet and they get nervous when they can't pinpoint you anymore.
Hope this helps...at the very least it may bring on some debate but these are just some of my observations. However, I will admit that every theory I have ever had about grouse and grouse hunting, at some point I have also disproved these theories...that is what makes these birds "King of the Uplands".