The Golden Age For Georgia Grouse

These hunters knew the mountains in a time when good dogs, better shotgunners and lots of grouse were the norm.

My memories of hunting the ruffed grouse in Georgia’s high mountains began back in 1956 when I was taken under the wing and taught about a great game bird. The grouse hunter who I was taught by was none other than Arthur (Fats) Truelove, of Hall County.

Ask any Georgia grouse hunter, from years past, and they probably knew or have heard of Fats Truelove’s grouse hunting.

Arthur was born into a hunting family back in 1923. This family raised cotton in the summer and hunted quail, known simply as “birds,” all the winter months. This family of shooters consisted of Arthur’s pa and grandpa. The bird hunts they did were done on foot from the homestead to many areas in a different directions each day and covered 12 to 15 miles. Most weeks they hunted six days a week.

Going to the Truelove’s home when I was just a 16-year-old lad and listening to their bird-hunting stories, it was better than reading Sports Afield when Nash Buckingham’s bird hunts were in print. Gun handling and shooting were instilled in Fats as a very young lad. Thus, when Fats started hunting grouse in the late 40s, his gun handling and shooting were already superb. Learning from shooting live birds caused Fats to develop a style of shooting known as snap-shooting. He was not a follow-through type shooter like today’s gun-range shooters are. In other words, Fats shot at a spot out in front of were a crossing grouse would be. A snap-shooter shoots at a spot.

After World War II ended and the times really began to change, the bird populations in Hall and Jackson counties diminished. The Trueloves started hunting deer in the mountains. Deer hunting exposed Fats to the ruffed grouse. Fats switched from bird hunting to grouse hunting in 1947. Fats had all the talents needed to become a grouse hunter. Arthur said one time, grouse were a lots easier to shoot than birds, because they flushed much slower but made much more noise.

When I first started grouse hunting with Fats, he had a black and white pointer, who was named Kate. Kate only had one pup. This pup’s name was Dot, who was born in 1959 and lived till 1970. Dot was Fat’s favorite grouse dog. She worked to hand-signals to hunt wherever Fats wanted her to hunt. She would hunt up high on a mountainside or down on creeks in the roughest thickets. One of several lessons learned while hunting with Fats was to be quiet. He did not allow any loud talking or noise.

“Noise will scare a grouse and cause wild flushing,” he told anyone who was fortunate to hunt grouse with him.

I also learned that Fats liked very cold days to hunt grouse, much better than warm days. Sometimes, it would be so cold that when the dogs ran across a creek and got water all over them, they would stop to shake the water off of their hair. A loud rattling sound could be heard—of the frozen ice, from just having crossed the creek. Fat’s theory for wanting to hunt in very cold times was that grouse would hold better to a dog’s point when it was near zero or below. Dot would bark a yep, yep, when a grouse flushed wild. This was helpful to know about grouse that were not pointed.

The heydays of Georgia’s grouse, in my lifetime, were in the early 60s.Why was this? The national forest had been logged selective for the past 50 years. This opened-up the forest and caused the grouse populations to increase.

“Habitat!”

Another happening at this same time was a span-worm infestation, which lasted three or four years. These span-worms completely defoliated the mountain hardwood trees in the summers, which made the mountains look like it was wintertime. All grouse had to do to have their craw’s filled with these 1-inch worms was to look down and pick one up. A quick meal. Turkeys and trout were helped, too, by these abundant span-worms.

During the early 60s, Arthur and his dogs had days of flushing more than 30 grouse. However, not all days or hunt places were like that. One of Fat’s favorite beats, or hunts, was down Board-town Creek, off Duncan Ridge Road in today’s Cooper’s Creek WMA.

Back in those days when we hunted, there were no food plots or drivable roads off of the main U.S. Forest Service roads, just logging roads.

Other favorite hunts were the Sea Creek drainages, and the creeks in the Jack’s Gap area. Gilreath and Williams creeks in Gaddistown were very special places, and almost all of the Blue Ridge WMA’s creek drainages were, too.

Fats taught me a lot of lessons about grouse. One time, when he and I were hunting down Board-town creek, Dot was hunting way up high on the mountainside when she froze on point.

Fats asked, “Herb, do you want to climb up there to see what she has pointed?”

Being tired from a hard day’s hunt, I declined.

“You should keep your dog’s points honest, and you owe it to the dog,” Arthur told me as he started climbing up the mountainside to where Dot was on point.

When Fats was nearing Dot, three grouse flushed all flying away the same way. Bang, bang, bang went Fat’s gun, and three grouse came tumbling down.

I just stood there in awe with my mouth open, watching how smoothly and easily his triple seemed to be. Over the 25 years I hunted with Fats, I witnessed him making many doubles and triples. He was the best snap-shooter I ever saw.

Fats carried and shot a gun that no modem-day grouse shooter would consider. This gun was bought new and given to Arthur in the 1930s when Arthur was 14. It was an auto-loader by Remington, a Model 11 in 12 gauge with a 28-inch modified barrel. These guns weighed in at more than 8 pounds.

Now, Fats was a big man, 260 pounds. However, his weight was not all fat, there were muscles in his arms and legs. Fats was a blockmason by trade, when he worked. Climbing mountainsides toting an 8-lb. gun was not a problem to him.

During those abundant grouse years of 61, 62 and 63, Fats killed more than 100 grouse each year. Year in and year out, Fats averaged taking 70 to 80 grouse. You do not kill that many grouse just being a weekend grouse hunter. Fats Truelove was never married and did not work from September to June each year in order to have time for deer hunts, grouse hunts and turkey hunts.

Fats liked for me to hunt with him, and it instilled in me to become an outdoorsman, woodsman, deer hunter, grouse hunter and turkey hunter. I truly am thankful for having known him and the times we spent together in the outdoors. My greatest honor ever given to me was when I was asked to present a Living Legend Award to Arthur Truelove in 1998. This was at a jam-pack group of Fats’ hunting friends honoring him at the Civic Center in Gainesville, which seated hundreds and hundreds that night.

My Grouse Hunts

My grouse hunts became more enjoyable during the 1970s, because of an English setter bird dog given to me. Having your own dog will cause you to hunt more than anything else. Star was my grouse dog’s name, and she was born in 1970 of field-champion bloodlines. A natural, easy-to-train female setter, Star was pointing birds at 6 months of age and working from hand signals. She was worked on live birds but never hunted anything but grouse.

Arthur’s dog Dot died in 1969, and he never tried to have another grouse dog, causing him to give up grouse hunting. So, my last 10 years before I quit, my hunts were just Star and myself.

Star and I were very fortunate that I had hunted with Fats—to learn the ropes and where and how to hunt. Although there were not as many grouse in the 70s as there were in the 60s, there were still a good many grouse, especially if you knew where to hunt. On my better days I would flush 15 to 20 grouse. Killing a limit of three grouse did happen often.

Star, being of field-champion stock, was a big traveling grouse dog. My dog, like Dot, could be sent by hand-signals to hunt the hillsides as well as the creeks.

Fat’s said one time, “If a dog hunts with me, it will have to have enough spunk for it to get out from under my feet and hunt places I don’t walk, because I figure I can kill those grouse.”

However, a big running dog has to learn to work hand signals to keep the dogs hunting crossways to your travel direction, not just up and down a logging road.

Being a sporting-goods buyer and retail sporting goods manager for 47 years, I was exposed to all kinds of hunters and outdoorsmen. In the mid 60s, I became interested in shooting skeet. For 10 years I was just a causal skeet shooter as a part of my outdoor nature. Then in the mid 70s I became more serious as a skeet shooter to improve my wing-shooting.

Running a big sporting-goods operation allowed me to purchase my re-loading components at a discount. Buying direct from reloading manufactures let me load boxes of 12 gauge shot shells with 1 1/8-oz. loads of No. 9 shot for .95 cents for a box of 25 shells, back in 1975. Needless to say, I shot some skeet. This improved my wing-shooting ability on grouse. But, my ability as a wing shooter was nothing like Fats Truelove’s wing shooting. I was a gun-range-type, follow-through shooter.

In 1975 I purchased a brand-new CJ 5 Jeep to travel in the mountains for a hunting vehicle. With a new Jeep and more time to hunt, I turned to Star and grouse hunting like I had never hunted grouse before.

Tooting My Own Grouse Shooting Horn

Arthur once revealed to me he had killed 12 grouse without missing a shot.

In the year of 1977, I realized I had a string of seven grouse killed without missing a shot. As I continued to shoot grouse on toward the end of that season, I was making my shots count. Also, the pressure was building, and I knew what I was trying to do. I would like to top my friend, Arthur Truelove, and his string of 12 grouse. When the 1977 grouse season ended, I still had not missed a shot since the string of kills began. I had done the unbelievable. I had killed 13 grouse without missing. Of these 13 grouse without missing, there were three doubles. In the photo of three grouse on page 20, two of those were a double.

I told Fats of my shooting string. Although Fats and I were not hunting together because he had quit, he would come every night after my hunt to see how I did. When I killed the last one for that season, he congratulated me, and he was proud for me being able to do this. Arthur and I both always had respect for each other, especially about outdoor happenings.

However, I never made a triple on grouse, like Fats often did. Choosing to shoot a Remington Model 3200 0/U in Skeet & Skeet eliminated my chance because of shooting a two-shot gun. Before going to the over-and-under, I shot a Remington Model 1100 in 12 gauge and had all kind of chances to make a triple. I missed every way there was… like missing the first grouse and doubling the last two. Like killing the first grouse, missing the second grouse, and then killing the third. Also, I killed the first two grouse and missed the third—this happened several times. Seems like it was not meant to be. I would like to state, I shot 1 1/4-oz. of No. 9 shot loads for grouse.

Star lived until 1979, and then my grouse hunting came to an end, just like Fat’s did when Dot died. My lifestyle changed again in 1980. I began building a Scandinavian scribe-fitted log home, which took 13 years to build. This was my undoing of hunting on everything—except turkey hunting.

Grouse hunting was a special part of my hunting life. Great dog companionship, very challenging wing shooting, and just being outdoors in the mountains in wintertime— these were all God’s endowments to me. How blessed my life has been.

Arthur’s Bird Hunting Friends

I would like to end my story of by-gone grouse days with one of the great bird hunting stories told to me by Fats Truelove. I have already stated these bird-hunting stories were better than the bird hunting stories in Sports Afield, even those written by the late Nash Buckingham.

I personally knew most of the bird shooters involved on this particular bird hunt. The shooters were Claude Truelove, Julian Truelove, Arthur Truelove, Jack Tapp, Wallace Bagby and Patrick Greer. The last three men were from Buford, and all three were Bona Allen leather company men who hunted with the Trueloves. All of them had auto-loader guns.

This bird hunt took place in the early 1940s in Jackson County at a big bottom near the North Oconee River, also known as Peckerwood. Their dogs trailed a covey of birds by scent. They went out into the bottom and locked on point. Arthur, being the youngest and the least experienced of these veteran bird shooters, was positioned to the right outside flank of a line they formed behind the dogs. When the covey was busted, one single bird turned back around to the right flank, going behind Arthur.

“I turned around to my right and killed the bird going straight-away,” Arthur told me. “Other guns were popping—like popping popcorn. When I turned back around, all I could see were feathers hanging in the air, then they were slowly floating down. Not one single bird could be seen flying off. When the dogs had finished retrieving all the birds, the count was 21 dead birds.”

Arthur said, “I only killed one bird. They killed all of the rest.”

This was the caliber of hunters and shooters the Trueloves of Hall County were. It was back in a different hunting world.

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