Why do we love the ruffed grouse? It occurs to me that it’s because of its unpredictability. My wife, Susan, likes to say that there is nothing universal about the ruffed grouse. Let’s take a look at how this amazing bird keeps us guessing.
Perhaps ten years ago, Susan and I were staying at a well-established camp in Northern Maine. We woke one morning to high winds and heavy rain. At breakfast, the guides were commenting on how difficult it would be to find birds that morning. Like most living creatures, the weather would force the birds into shelter from the elements. They would sit tight and wait out the storm.
When you have limited days to hunt, weather is not a deterrent. Susan, I, and the dogs, were off for the woods by 8:30 am. The first indication that rules don’t apply is that we saw three road birds the first half hour. Once we got to our destination cover, we questioned our sanity…the rain had picked-up. Into the cover, with both Dillon and Dena, we ventured. Typically, in this type of weather, the grouse will be tight under, or in, conifers. Well, just 50’ off the road, we had a double flush next to a run of raspberry canes. The day continued with rain and wind, however, we had some excellent dog work and killed a couple of birds over solid points.
The next day, we woke to a beautiful sunrise. There was also a very mild breeze. At breakfast, both guests and guides were predicting a banner day. At noon, Susan and I had not seen a road bird nor had a point from the dogs. Where were the birds? I can’t answer that question since grouse are so unpredictable. We did have action between 3:00 to 4:00 pm. The birds were moving, feeding and the air turns over that time of day which results in a trapped scent cloud just above the ground. That means perfect scenting conditions for a pointing dog that runs with a high head.
The lesson here is that what should have been a poor day for hunting was actually pretty good and what most people would feel should be an excellent day was only average. I’ve see the same pattern many times over the years. Unless, in a later life, we come back as a ruffed grouse, we’ll never understand how they think.
We’re also fooled frequently due to the mobility of the ruffed grouse. Susan and I have an old logging road, in Northern Maine, that is probably our favorite grouse covert. The road is overgrown and goes for about two miles. We purposely hunt this road at different times of the day. We’ve been trying to establish a pattern. However, there is no pattern. One day we’ll get three or four flushes on this road and the next day, at the very same time, we’ll get none. The next day we’ll hunt a different time and the same result…no pattern to when they’re near that road.
I recently travelled to Michigan to film an episode for my TV show, Bird Dogs Afield. Despite filming/hunting over some outstanding grouse dogs, finding birds was difficult; and we were hunting great cover. Two days later, Tracey Lieske, our guide and host, emailed me that he had 16 flushes in the same cover earlier in the day. Our wonderful and beloved ruffed grouse strikes again. ..he’s unpredictable.
There is one more point I would like to make here. Two of our most popular game animals, the whitetail deer and the wild turkey, can be patterned much easier than the ruffed grouse. That makes a ruffed grouse, shot on-the-wing over a pointing dog, a true hunting trophy.
Copyright 2018 Paul Fuller
Paul Fuller is a life-long sportsman. He’s been an outdoor writer since 1971. He’s the host and producer of the award winning Bird Dogs Afield TV show (www.birddogsafield.com) and produced the epic video Grouse, Guns & Dogs. Paul shot over his first German shorthaired pointer in 1961. Paul may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.