Stonewall Jackson Lake WMA's Grouse Bonus

Stonewall Jackson Lake WMA's Grouse Bonus

The expansive public-land acreage of this wildlife management area offers prime real estate for you to intercept brown bombers right now. Here's where you should try!

By Jack Bell

This past spring while guiding Heather Lindsay, a young lady from Mill Creek who happened to be one of the winners of the Governor's Youth Hunt Annual writing contest, I had the opportunity to return to several areas that I'd bird hunted on a regular basis over 10 years ago.

The very last spot I drove to was an old grouse hunting hotspot that had furnished friends and me with good to excellent bird hunting some 10 to 15 years ago. I was somewhat pleasantly surprised to find that it actually looked even better than the last time we had hunted it years ago.

Actually, over the years this area in general has been a good late-season grouse-hunting destination for us, as it usually does not get the volume of snow that we experience up in Preston County where I live. The snowfall in this region normally is about half of what it is in my home area. Add to this the 18,289 acres found within the Stonewall Jackson Wildlife Management area (WMA), plus an additional 3,000 acres just east of this in the Stonecoal WMA, and you can see that there's a lot of bird hunting potential between these two wildlife management areas.

Stonewall Jackson WMA lies approximately five to eight miles south of Weston, just below the intersection of Interstate 79 and U.S. Route 33. Stonecoal WMA lies just east of Stonewall Jackson and can be accessed off Route 33 on county Route 15 at Horner. A large part of both of these areas were old farms and pasture fields 15 to 25 years ago, which are reverting to pole timber and thickets.

When giving consideration to hunting either of these areas, keep in mind that a short boat or canoe ride could save you considerable time and effort in getting into your target area. In a recent conversation with Ray Knotts, who is the Wildlife Resources game biologist for this district, he mentioned, "Since Stonewall Jackson is fairly narrow, bird hunters coming to this area would be wise to consider toting a johnboat or canoe with them to assist in getting into some of the more remote areas surrounding the lake."

Photo by Jerry Owens

Knotts said that although bird counts have been down somewhat the past couple of years, those who are willing to put forth the effort to find it can still find decent hunting. He mentioned that there is still a plethora of multiflora rose/autumn olive thickets up Curtis Run, Wolf Fork and the Skin Creek areas. Only in the coldest winters does Stonewall Jackson or Stonecoal freeze over. There isn't a horsepower restriction on Stonewall Jackson, but a 10-horsepower or less restriction is enforced on Stonecoal. If you plan to use a johnboat or canoe, there's good to excellent access for these lighter boats.

The snows in this area weren't quite as severe as what they were in the higher elevations of the state this past winter. While this specific area doesn't quite have the elevations you'd find in the mountains just west of here, much of this region can be termed "steep" even though most of the ridges in this immediate area will be at elevations of 1,400 to 1,800 feet. To hunt this area it would be wise to be in good to excellent physical condition. In addition, I'd bring two pairs of boots with one pair of light rubber boots and a second pair of leather boots for slightly drier ground conditions.

You can hunt this area relatively effectively without the aid of a keen- nosed bird dog, especially if there's a light covering of snow on the ground. However, if you are like me, the true fun in great grouse hunting is the pleasure you'll get from watching a decent bird dog work, regardless of its breed.

For the late-season hunting, my hunting partners and I favor 12-gauge over/unders bored improved and modified choke or in the case of my old 101 Winchester, either a No. 1 or No. Skeet. I have also used a Remington 1100 Special Field with a straight stock, which is bored improved cylinder. It does a great job in the grouse thickets. We usually use 1-1/8-ounce loads of No. 7 1/2s, although my hunting partner uses a 1-1/4 ounce load of No. 6s in the modified barrel of his SKB over/under. I can attest to the deadliness of this combination out to 40 to 45 yards, which isn't an uncommon opportunity on grouse in the late season in this area.

Many folks prefer a 20-gauge shotgun for their bird hunting and that is fine for those who no longer want to pack the additional weight of a 12 gauge. The 16 gauge has been seeing somewhat of a well-deserved resurgence here of late. If you can find a double barrel, pump or a semi-auto that fits you, the 16 gauge will more than fit the bill in any grouse woods.

The only other ancillary gear you'll need is a good pair of brush pants, a hunting coat or vest (depending on your preference), a blaze orange hat and a couple of pairs of gloves. The brush pants are a must, as there's a lot of multiflora rose in this area coupled with some fairly heavy greenbrier thickets in other spots.

As for hand wear, I like the plain old red flannel-lined work gloves because I can find them in just about any convenience store. Two or three pairs will generally take care of my needs for a season's worth of hunts. I used to use a pair of handball gloves, but lost these with far too much regularity. A water bottle, a small camera and a copious supply of spare shells should more than fill out your equipment requirements. If you are new to this area, a small topo map of the area plus a compass might be warranted also.

You can access this area off Interstate 79 south at the Roanoke exit by using U.S. Route 19 and off U.S. Route 33 just east of Weston. Route 19 south bisects Stonewall Jackson Lake and then you can utilize several of the other county routes such as 19-10 or 15, which runs north to south from the village of Horner down through Georgetown and Vandalia before it intersects with Route 19.

So if winter doldrums have you down and you're anxious to try some new coverts, the Stonewall Jackson and Stonecoal WMAs have a lot to offer the late-season bird hunter. Don't take my word for it, though. Try the areas out for yourself. I think you'll find you can add another trump card to your bird hunting possibilities. If you know where to look, you'll find grouse in these locations.

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