How to Hunt Grouse
Hunting the ruffed grouse, the king of game birds, is a life-long challenge for most lovers of the upland. However, a systematic and logical approach will help you locate more birds.
First, there are two tools that make the hunt more enjoyable. The first is a grouse dog. Both pointing dogs and flushing dogs are used with success; however, I prefer pointing dogs. For pointing dog grouse hunting popularity, the English setter has always been No. 1. The setter is followed by the Brittany, the German shorthair and the pointer. Any of these pointing breeds will give you many years of grouse hunting enjoyment.
The next tool is your shotgun. The traditional shotgun style for ruffed grouse is the side x side. Any of the popular styles such as over and under, pump or semi-auto will work just fine. I prefer a 20 gauge with improved cylinder in the right barrel and modified cylinder in the left barrel. If shooting a side x side. Shot size 7 ½ is my favorite grouse load.
Now comes the challenge…how to find grouse. It’s important to recognize that all living critters need two things to survive…food and shelter. Combine the two and you have what biologists refer to as habitat. For the ruffed grouse, food comes from a variety of sources. Those sources change depending upon the geographical location and time of year. For the purpose of this column, we’ll discuss Northeast habitat.
Food and shelter are found primarily in young hardwood forests with mixed species of conifers. The hardwood forests are best if they age between five to twenty years. This age provides enough shelter from aerial predators but enough sunlight to permit ground food to grow for the grouse. The conifers provide a safe haven for roosting and from inclement weather. Reminder: You must have both food and shelter to locate grouse.
Your author breaks down ruffed grouse food sources, during hunting season, into three phases. The first phase is early season grouse hunting. The green food sources such as clover, strawberry leaves, raspberry leaves and; well, just about anything that’s green all are loved by the grouse. The food plate is huge which makes finding grouse a little harder. There is no need for them to concentrate around one food source.
The plethora of early season food dictates that the serious grouse hunter does pre-season scouting. What makes pre-season scouting fun is that it provides an excellent opportunity to work your dog on wild birds. For training purposes, there is no equivalent to wild bird work. Both August and September provide two months of training opportunity. When you locate broods, mark the location on your map. Grouse do move throughout the day but usually stay within a 15 acre area.
The second food phase for the ruffed grouse occurs during mid-season. By mid-season, frost has killed much of the green food sources. Clover, strawberry and raspberry leaves have all turned black and have no nutritional value. Grouse food during mid-season consists of nuts, berries and apples. Apples if you’re lucky enough to have an old deserted farm in your Rolodex of grouse covers. Acorns, beech and hickory are all favorite grouse food. For berries, mountain ash, highbush cranberries, grapes are all favorite mid-season food for the grouse.
Around mid-November, we move into the third phase of grouse food during the hunting season. This phase consists primarily of buds from aspen, black cherry and apple trees. Rose hips might also be still around at this time. Tree buds are what keeps the grouse alive during the stressful winter months.
Now let’s introduce science to help us find more birds. Body scent is pointing scent. Birds moving create more body scent than birds that are still. Birds move the most during feeding periods which are early morning and late afternoon. The bacterium that creates scent requires moisture to live. Hot dry periods are difficult for a pointing dog. Temperautres and humidity levels between 40 and 60 are considered ideal scenting conditions.
Have a great grouse season. Perhaps Susan and I will see you in the woods.
Copyright 2019 Paul Fuller