Hunting black grouses is a passion you learn step by step and that demands great commitment. It’s kind of like reaching the top of the mountain, a patient achievement, that in the end brings you that much closer to sky…
It was there… underneath that big larch, marked by the time, it was shaking and I watched it, amazed, I felt the experience of that dog in the air, suddenly a din broke the silence, a black shadow flew off at 20 meters distance and Paco, my father’s setter, stood there, motionless, under the larch. It’s just won the CACIT at “Saladini Pilastri” Award and I’ve just seen my first black grouse.
The memory of that special day was engraved in my mind and since then, I can’t help going back up there, among those larches, those badlands, those mountains looking for this fascinating as much as unpredictable wild. They call them “black devils”, the black grouses, maybe because they’re animals which enchant everyone who tries to threaten them. Their elusiveness, the unpredictability of their movements, sooner or later, fascinate every mountain hunter.
The black grouse, known as capercaillie too, is a mysterious wild animal, not widely known, with an elegant appearance.
Black, white and blue brush strokes paint the male’s feathers, red and proud caruncles on the top of the head. It has quick and stable flight even in long distance. It is one of my favorite game in Alpine hunting, along with ptarmigans and chamois.
It is a “moody” game and that’s what makes it so special. One day you can catch it, the other it gives you no chance. Only when you know them well, you can hope of achieving results.
For this, mountain hunter is willing to consume his boots up and down, even for a single black grouse. Yes… mountains are very beautiful, but tough too. An amazing landscape, with its rules, which rewards only the hunter who never gives up. To conquer this unique wild game, the mountain always demands sacrifice.
During summer the environment becomes cozy, rich of food, berries and shoots, with sprawl of rhododendrons and blueberries populated by insects and ants. It is the season when young capercaillies grow up and rapidly mutate their plumage from brown-gray to black, color of full maturity.
That feature remind me of a peculiar cultural tradition from Trentino region. In Valle dei Mocheni, young boys who turn eighteen wear the “Kronz”, a hat with an entire black grouse’s tail on the back, given from valley’s hunters. This wonderful wild animal marked the symbolic passage to adult age for generations!
October brings the gift of the autumn, when larches’ color paints the sides of the mountains and black grouse’s males prepare themselves for the winter.
Complete silence, high concentration and an excellent physical training are the ingredients for hunting capercaillies. Dogs are absolute protagonists, they must be prepared for mountain’s environment and the pitfalls of this hunt. Their pointing must be incredibly firm, to not waste any precious occasion and to not provoke early flapping.
I like hunting black grouse with smoothbore barrel over ad under, as Feeling Woodcock. A versatile and light-weight shotgun, which doesn’t tire hunter’s shoulder. It is available in 12, 20 and 28 gauges.
I can’t forget that morning when we decided to go hunting black grouses, with our faithful hunting over and under shotguns.
My dad, my brother and I left sooner than usual. In the car, we discussed about hunting strategies to pass the time. The mountain at the light of dawn is spectacular… hearing its awakening is one of those emotion that never ends to amaze me.
They sang on top of the larches, when we arrived. The only choice we had was waiting, waiting for them to eat. At mid-morning we started climbing up the path, searching larches’ ridge accompanied by our hunting dogs in absolute silence.
It took few hours and a lot of steps, when suddenly I lose sight of the young Gipo, which moves away and disappears in a avalanche chute. Shortly after I see the dog, still as a statue, pointing a mugo pine 30 meters far from us, where the black grouse we were looking for was hidden. Everything was silence, as the mountain itself held its breath with us. It was a matter of instants and, indeed, I saw the black grouse, flying in the air down the valley. Its flight ended on my first barrel. Indescribable emotion… When you hold one of those amazing animals all the effort of hunting disappears and some melancholy comes…
Hunting season is long gone, but in the moments of silence that one black grouse often comes to mind and I feel a strange wish inside. Every time I told myself: “Would it be nice seeing it flying again?”. We hunters are strange”.