Grouse Gastronomy

Sep 8, 2018

Hunting seasons begin for sharp-tailed grouse, ruffed grouse, and Hungarian or gray partridge this Saturday, September 8.  Hunters will have an assortment of reasons to be afield after these gamebirds.  But they have long been popular game, and all have a reputation for good table fare. No doubt the ranking and cooking techniques of these upland game birds along with pheasants and doves will be a topic of much conversation. 

Sharp-tailed grouse are native North Dakotans. They helped provide sustenance for the Native American and also the early European settlers. And of course, they are still a popular game bird here in North Dakota. 

John James Audubon was not familiar with the sharp-tailed grouse when he wrote his Birds of America.  However, he did comment on its flavor in his description of the species. “Mr. Townsend informs me that while crossing the north branch of the Platte (Larimie’s Fork), he found this species breeding, and that as an article of food it proved to be a very well-flavoured and plump bird, considerably superior to any of the other large species that occur in the United States.” Later Audubon became more familiar with the species and described it as “first-rate.”

Although the history of the ruffed grouse in the state is not well known, it too may well be a native. Its range is closely related to aspen, and early reports suggest it may have been native to woodlands along the Red River and its tributaries, Pembina Hills, and Turtle Mountains. 

Many hunters rank the ruffed grouse near the top of their upland game table fare list, and Audubon was apparently of a similar opinion. Here is a bit of what he had to say in his description of the species in his Birds of America. “You are not presented, kind reader, with a species of Grouse, which, in my humble opinion, far surpasses as an article of food every other land-bird which we have in the United States, except the Wild Turkey, when in good condition.”

The Hungarian or gray partridge is not a native.  They didn’t show up in our state until the 1920’s, probably from introductions in western Canada. But the first hunting season didn’t commence until 1934. 

Although Audubon may not have dined on Hungarian partridge, many who have, declare it among the best upland game birds.  Hank Shaw, creator of the website Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook says the partridge is “mild.  The meat is a little darker than a chicken’s or a pheasant’s…Imagine a denser, more savory game hen and you get the idea.”

“So, Happy Hunting and Bon Appetit!”

~Chuck Lura