Bird Dogs Afield host Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal.

Northwoods Sporting Journal

The Three Phases of Grouse Food            

This column will be read right in the heart of New England grouse season.  That means a change in weather is affecting your grouse hunting.  To be a successful grouse hunter, you need to adjust your hunting technique as the season progresses.

During the early grouse season (Phase 1), everything is still green.  That means the grouse dinner plate is huge.  Researchers say that there are over 700 plant species in the Northeast that grouse will eat.  That means grouse can be just about anywhere in early October; which means they can be hard to locate.  Colder weather changes that scenario.

A frost can be the grouse hunter’s best friend.  A frost will kill clover, strawberry leaves, colt’s foot, etc. That means the dinner plate is shrinking. When the dinner plate shrinks (Phase 2), grouse seek new food sources and become more concentrated around those sources. Once green plants are gone, they head to berries, nuts, and apples if available.  Even after a frost or two, I’ve found mountain ash and high bush cranberries to be very attractive to the ruffed grouse.  In fact, I feel these two berries are ice cream to ruffed grouse.  If you’re in an area with old overgrown farm land, always look for grape vines and apple trees.  These represent more ruffed grouse ice cream.

Here’s a short story.  Many years ago, I met an elderly man in Lincoln, Maine.  We started talking about partridge which is the proper name for grouse if you live in Maine.  He told me that his grandfather had apple orchards.  His grandfather would pay kids to shoot partridge out of his apple trees because they would eat thousands of buds and that cost the apple farmer thousands of apples.  The elderly man said that was probably around 1900.

In addition to berries and apples, phase two of the feeding cycle for the ruffed grouse would be nuts. If you know of a beech tree in your hunting area, it’s a favorite of the grouse.  Acorns are also attractive to the bird. I would think the sweet meat of the hickory would be attractive; however, I’ve never found grouse around a hickory tree.

Once the birds have moved through the berries, apples and nuts, then we go to Phase 3. Depending upon the weather, Phase 3 is usually around mid-November.  Phase 3 consists primarily of buds.  In New England, in the big woods, the two primary buds are from the aspen and the black cherry.  Both are found in early successional forest growth and not in a mature forest.  Eating buds will keep the birds healthy throughout the winter months.  As an avid pointing dog man, I seldom hunt when the grouse have gone to the trees to bud.  It’s hard to get a point when the birds are in the trees, plus, with little or no leaf cover, the birds are under great stress from avian predators.

We’ve covered the three feeding phases that affect mid- to late-season grouse hunting, now let’s discuss mid- to late-season dog care.  In early October, we often hunt in 50-60 degree weather.  If your dogs have been well conditioned, they’ll hold up well…as long as they are watered frequently.  As it grows colder, if you hunt with a short haired dog, consider a jacket of some type.  Dogs with short hair have very little hair on their stomach.  Also, consider using a food with a little more fat.  Our hunting dogs burn fat more quickly in cold weather.

Good luck with your mid to late season grouse hunt.

Copyright 2018 Paul Fuller

Paul and his wife Susan are co-hosts of Bird Dogs Afield TV ( Paul can be contacted at