Oh, this opens up a can of worms for me...
My taste for what is my favorite bird to hunt has evolved as I've branched out and experienced new things. And what my hunting hunger years for changes with the season. Just as the calendar marks the opening for another bird, so too does my earnestness grow to hunt it.
I started out as a hardcore waterfowler. There still is something almost magical about a perfectly worked flock of ducks that sets well within gun range. My fall isn't complete without a few waterfowl outings. And when you live in North Dakota, you almost have to hunt ducks: otherwise it would be like living in Minnesota and not fishing. Unheard of!
But as I've come to appreciate game more, I am totally drawn to ruffed grouse. Everything about them beckons to me on a primal level: the habitat they exist, the way they flush, the total challenge involved in downing one. In fact, a ruff is the only bird that I hunt with pure enthusiasm, but still can't help but feel a bit sorry for it when I actually connect on one. That, and ruffed grouse hunting is in my blood. My father's side is from the Iron Range in Minnesota, and the trails I hunt to this day were hunted by generations before me. If possible, I know exactly how I will take my children out on their first hunt.
And yes, grouse are frustrating. They flush wildly, sometimes way off in the woods. Your chances of shooting one are slim at best. What other outdoor pursuit do you count success based on number of flushes more than birds in hand?
There's also the cyclical population change of the bird. In 10-year intervals, the birds go through peaks and plummets. Those down years only build an appreciation for the better times. And as long as habitat remains, you can bet that in autumns to come, the population will once again blossom into its full capacity.
Last fall was my first actually hunting ruffs with a dog. Remy may have only been a few months old at the time, but he created even a deeper respect for a bird I already adored. I can't wait to get him out on some ruffs this fall, especially now that he's a bit more trained.
As for pheasants, well...you can have 'em