I recently got the opportunity to go on a grouse hunt in eastern Washington.
This weekend, my friend Matthew and I made the drive up to northern Washington for a grouse hunt with Okanogan Highlands Outfitters. We’ve had some pretty successful hunts with each other in the past, like the Georgia bear hunt. Unfortunately, the last hunt we attempted to go on together was our recent bear hunt on the Pacific Coast, which did not turn out so well. Fortunately, we had already booked this hunt and had it to look forward to. The grouse hunt turned out to be physically demanding and challenging. However, we saw lots of wildlife, viewed some spectacular countryside, had lots of fun. Therefore, this hunt was a great success.
Okanogan Highlands Outfitters are a relatively new operation and are only in their second season of operation. The outfit is run by a couple that lives adjacent to the hunting area: Katrina runs the administrative and logistics of the business and Jeff is the guide for the hunts. Last July, Matt found their website and contacted them regarding a grouse hunt this fall. Katrina quickly responded and we booked a grouse hunt for the weekend of 2-3 November, which was just after the close of modern firearm deer season in the area.
We were very quickly impressed by the treatment we received from Katrina. She always responded to our questions in a timely and friendly manner. Additionally, she made us feel like we were her priority, which was a welcome change from our previous experience with an outfitter. One nice touch that they had, which I’ve never experienced before, was the food survey that Katrina sent us a few weeks prior to the hunt. We filled it out with our favorite foods and she ensured that the cabin we stayed in was stocked with exactly the food and beverages what we wanted upon arrival.
The Okanogan Highlands are located in northeast Washington, right on the Canadian border. Elevations there range from 3000 to 7500 feet and we ended up hunting around 4000-5000 feet in elevation. Due to the proximity to Canada and the high elevation, the Okanogan Highlands get pretty cold and they receive significant amounts of snowfall each year, as we quickly discovered. The area mainly consists of forests with open fields and farmland interspersed.
After work on Friday, Matt and I linked up and made the 6 hour drive from the Tacoma area to the town of Chesaw, which is the closest town to the hunting area. Katrina and Jeff met us on our arrival and we shared a delicious dinner that Katrina had prepared. After finishing dinner, we followed Jeff on a short drive to the cabin where we would stay during the hunt.
The cabin was small, but comfortable and well furnished. It had two beds, hot and cold running water, a shower, a toilet, solar powered electricity, and a propane heater. They also provided all of the little things necessary for a hunt like towels and linens. The cabin turned out to be the perfect place to warm up and dry out between hunts that weekend.
Every day, Katrina would provide breakfast before sunrise and pack each of us a bag of snacks for the day. Just as it was light enough to see well, Jeff would pick us up for the morning hunt. We would hunt all morning and take a break for lunch at the cabin, which typically consisted of sandwiches that Katrina prepared for us. We would then hit the woods again until dark, and then we would go back into town and have dinner with Katrina.
Jeff has access to just over 500 acres of private land located adjacent to the cabin that we hunted on each day. The land varied between thick stands of trees and brush, to more open forest, to open fields. Old logging roads were interspersed through the land providing easy access to most of the areas by vehicle. Some of our hunts were so close that we just walked from the cabin to the hunting area, so very little time was used in transit to the hunting area each day and we maximized out time actually in the woods hunting.
Though I was in pretty good shape, and we were not hunting at an extreme elevation, I received a good lesson in how difficult hunting in challenging terrain can be. Most of the areas we hunted had numerous small to medium bushes that were placed on ground with a constantly changing slope. I found that it was very difficult to maintain my focus on looking for grouse while negotiating such rough terrain and had a few flushing birds surprise me as a result.
Additionally, we had the unfortunate luck to hunt during the first winter storm of the year to hit the area. The temperature hovered in the low 30s and we received steady snowfall the first morning. Depending on the exact location and altitude, the area received anywhere between a light dusting and a few inches of snow. This was my first ever hunt in snow, and it was quite an experience. However, the forested mountains, which are normally beautiful on their own, are absolutely magnificent looking when covered with snow.
These low temperatures pushed most of the grouse down to lower elevations and to the southern slopes of the mountain where it was warmer. We saw very few birds up in the higher elevations of the property, which unfortunately consisted of the majority of the land available to hunt. Though we found a few thickets at lower elevation that quickly panned out of us.
Due to the cold, windy, and wet conditions, we saw only two grouse on the first day of hunting. However, things picked up significantly on day two when the sun came out and the wind died down. We saw considerably more grouse and had many more shot opportunities during the second day of hunting, though the birds still seemed to prefer the southern slopes and lower elevations.
In addition to grouse, we saw a considerable number of both Mule and White-Tailed Deer on the property. The outfitters mainly guide deer hunts, and believe me, they have a very healthy deer herd. In just two days, we saw over two dozen deer of both species, and we weren’t even looking for deer. Since Jeff and his clients are the only ones hunting deer there, the deer population experiences very little hunting pressure. I would absolutely feel comfortable hunting deer there myself or recommending the outfitter for a prospective Mule Deer hunter next year. We also saw sign made by both turkey and bear while hunting.
Jeff is an extremely knowledgeable, friendly, and professional guide and was a pleasure to spend the weekend with. He was obviously familiar with all of the intimate details of his land as well as the habits of the game animals that we pursued. It did not take him long to find out where the birds were and put us in position for a good shot. He was also very safety conscious and never put us in a position for something unsafe to happen.
Katrina did an outstanding job of providing great tasting food and comfortable accommodations for the hunt. She was also very friendly and willing to go the extra mile to ensure that we were satisfied. Matt and I both felt like our satisfaction and well being were a priority for her during the hunt.
All in all, Matt and I had a great time on the hunt. and learned why grouse are considered such a challenging species of small game. Even so, we still made it home with a good amount of their delicious meat. I can recommend Okanogan Highlands Outfitters without hesitation to any hunter looking for a great experience. I cannot guarantee that you will shoot a record book deer or fill your freezer with grouse meat, but I can say that they will provide a fun and memorable experience and you will very likely see a significant amount of game with them. Additionally, the scenery there is absolutely stunning and there is nothing quite like the feeling of getting away from it all and spending some time in the outdoors, which they can provide in spades.