Our Top 10 Fall Grouse Hunts
September 30, 2010
These first-rate public hunting areas contain plenty of grouse and well-managed habitat for hunters willing to do their homework. Lace up your hunting boots and give them a try this season! (October 2007)
Photo by Tim Lesmeister.
In northern New England, the ruffed grouse has been a most popular upland target, dating back to when the first Europeans arrived. Much of the landscape was forested at that time. But as settlers cleared the land, grouse were drawn to the edge cover in large numbers. As the human population increased, hunting pressure took a toll on the birds during the late 1880s and early 1900s.
Soon all the New England states implemented game laws and bag limits to protect these fabled birds.
Nevertheless, grouse populations continued to decline. During the early to mid-1900s, farmers left the country to find work in the cities. Their abandoned farmlands, once prime upland habitat, turned to forest.
Later, lumbering operations in northern New England produced great cover for grouse. But southern New England, with its smaller land holdings and limited forest cutting, let trees grow to maturity, and grouse numbers dwindled.
State wildlife managers, with the assistance of conservation organizations like the Ruffed Grouse Society, are now working to manage public forestlands with the intent of improving grouse and woodcock habitat.
Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, three states with low grouse populations, have active habitat-restoration programs in place.
According to state wildlife managers, the population of grouse in northern New England is fairly stable. In the southern regions, populations are still low but showing signs of rejuvenation. Aggressive land management and a good spring nesting season mean New England's hunters can expect to find good numbers of these prized game birds this fall in the following 10 public hunting lands:
Peru Wildlife Management Area
Grouse hunters have a better-than- average chance of sighting a grouse in this 4,729-acre WMA. Nestled in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts, this area provides grouse with a wide variety of habitat. The northern hardwood forest consists of maple, birch, white ash, black cherry and American beech. Maple seeds, beechnuts and other mast provide the birds with ample fall forage. Mixed in the area are stands of spruce, hemlock and white pine for cover.
Remnants of old apple orchards and several small meadows lie in the southern and eastern portions of the WMA. Also, an old beaver pond, now a swamp, lies in the southwest corner of the property. All three features should interest grouse hunters.
Generally, the forest has a gentle gradient requiring moderate exertion. Several fire roads and small brooks cut through the property.
Access comes off Route 9 east of Pittsfield. Follow Route 9 into Windsor Center. Turn south on Peru Road to will find several informal roadside parking areas. Peru Road's name changes to Beauman Road in the town of Peru. Parking is also available on Beauman Road.
Other access points may be found by taking the first right off Beauman Road onto Mongue Road. One parking area is at this turn. Another is at the end of Mongue Road where it joins Route 143.
Birch Hill WMA
Grouse seekers will find almost every conceivable type of hunting habitat in this large tract of land. The property covers a total of 7,431 acres, of which MassWildlife owns about 3,200. The rest is leased from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The better hunting lands are on the western side of the management area away from the flood-control project. Generally, the property is heavily forested with a mixture of hardwood trees and conifers. The WMA is interspersed with numerous small fields, clearings and brush patches that provide ideal grouse habitat.
This area also contains portions of the Otter and Miller rivers, several small tributary streams and a number of ponds and marshes. Grouse will be found along the river corridors leading into this forest.
Public access is near Exit 19 off Route 2. From the exit, follow Route 202 north past the Lake Dennison Recreation Area. Then, turn left onto either Sibley Road or River Street. In Royalston, River Street changes its name to Winchendon Road. Find roadside parking along both streets.
Birch Hill WMA is stocked with pheasants. Because of heavy pheasant-hunting pressure, grouse tend to shy away from the stocked areas. To access the best grouse hunting, be prepared to walk some distance away from the road.
Because the area is stocked with pheasants, hunters are required to wear at least an orange hat during the bird-hunting season.
Barre Falls WMA
At 10,557 acres, this WMA in the Ware River Valley is one of the Bay State's largest public lands. Because of its size and challenging terrain, hunters should be in good physical shape before attempting to hunt grouse here.
Through a cooperative agreement between the MassWildlife, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Metropolitan District Water Commission, the land is open to hunting and fishing. Pheasant are also liberated in portions of the forest.
As in Birch Hill, the better grouse potential is away from the pheasant-hunting areas. The southern and western portions of the forest should have less hunter traffic.
Hunters will find access points off Route 62 about four miles east of the town of Barre.
The parking areas off Route 62 provide access to the western and northern sections of the WMA.
To access the southern section, take Route 122 from Barre for about five miles. The access areas are well marked. Expect a workout -- this portion of the forest is steep. As at Birch Hill, hunters are required to wear an orange hat when hunting Barre Falls.
Massachusetts' grouse season runs from Oct. 13 through Nov. 24. Hunting license fees are $27.50 for residents and $65.50 for non-residents. The daily bag limit is three birds, and the season limit is 15.
For more information, call the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife at (508) 792-7270, or visit www.masswildlife.org.
For lodging and travel information, call the
Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism at 1-800-227-6277.
Hunters will reap the benefit of the efforts of the Ruffed Grouse Society and the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection when hunting this 911-acre tract. Over the years, the forest has been selectively cleared to allow brush and saplings to grow, providing great grouse cover.
Because of the clearcuts, the area does receive a modest stocking of pheasants during the October season.
Pheasant-hunting activities push grouse back into the fringes of the property. The pheasant-stocking section is well marked, with a large parking area nearby. Walk past the pheasant fields into the thicker brushlands in the northern part of the WMA.
The forest is conveniently located off Interstate Route 84. Take Exit 69 and turn west onto Route 74, then take the first right on Buff Cap Road.
Follow Buff Cap Road along I-84 for about one mile. Turn left on Babcock Road. Watch for signs and the main parking lot.
Housatonic State Forest
According to state wildlife managers, the Canaan Mountain portion of Housatonic State Forest has the best grouse habitat in the state. The forest has an overall area of 7,181 acres, which are broken up into several different-sized pieces of property.
Canaan Mountain is one of the largest and hilliest areas of the forest. Several logging roads provide access to the mountain. The trails are very steep, so if you want to find grouse, be prepared to climb.
As you work your way uphill, you will notice small cutover areas. Concentrate your hunting effort around these clearings. Because the area is remote, the only hunters you're likely to encounter are deer hunters and other avid grousers.
The main access points are along Route 63 in Canaan. From Route 44 in Canaan Center, turn south onto Route 7 for about one mile. Turn left onto Route 63. Roadside parking areas and the forest proper are on the left side of Route 63 about three miles from the Route 63/7 junction.
Connecticut's grouse season runs from Oct. 20 through Nov. 30. Hunting license fees are $15 for residents and $67 for non-residents. The daily bag limit is one bird, and the season limit is eight.
For more information, visit the Department of Environmental Conservation at www.dep.state.ct.us, or call toll-free 1-860-424-3011.
For lodging and travel information, phone the Connecticut Office of Tourism at 1-800-282-6863.
George Washington WMA
Nestled in the northwestern part of Rhode Island is 3,489-acre George Washington WMA, with Bowdish Reservoir and a state campground on its southern border. Grouse hunters will want to focus on the northern part of the forest when hunting.
The property consists of mature hardwood forest. Management activities within the forest include some patchwork clearings. Large shrub fields are also found in the western part of the WMA. Successful grouse hunters will spend most of their time working these clearings.
George Washington WMA is relatively flat for easy hunting. The footing is generally dry, except for a few small brooks and the occasional beaver pond. The main access is off Route 44 at Bowdish Reservoir.
Hunters may avoid the congested lake area by turning north on Olney Keach Road from Route 44 east of the reservoir, or Pulaski Road to the west near the Connecticut border.
Both roads lead to Centre Road, which runs through the WMA and offers roadside parking. The best hunting is north of Centre Road.
Big River WMA
Rhode Island's wildlife managers have been working to improve the grouse population in the state. Part of their program includes closing certain lands to grouse hunting while the cover improves, but the 8,300-acre Big River WMA is one area that is still open for grouse.
Hunters will find typical Rhode Island forest habitat consisting of smaller hardwood trees, with a modest blend of conifers that are utilized by grouse. When hunting this area, look for small openings recently cleared of trees. These forest clearings may be no larger than a living room, but the birds will utilize them.
Much of the area is lowland, with numerous brooks and small ponds. Hunters will likely see more woodcock than grouse in this forest when the annual timberdoodle migration is in full swing. But both birds provide good shooting.
The land is generally flat and will not challenge the hunter's physical stamina. Waterproof boots are highly recommended.
Big River WMA lies along the east side of I-95 between exits 6 and 6A. The main access point is off Exit 6. From the exit, follow Route 3 south. Parking is available along Route 3.
Hunters may also take Exit 6A and drive south on Hopkins Hill Road. This road bisects the forest, with the better hunting found on the western side of the road.
Rhode Island's grouse season runs from Oct. 20 through Dec. 31. Hunting license fees are $18 for residents and $45 for non-residents.
The daily bag limit is one bird, and the season limit is eight. For more information, visit the Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife at www.state.ri.us/dem, or phone (401) 789-3094.
For lodging and travel information, call the Rhode Island Tourism Division at 1-800-556-2484.
Lt. Gordon Manuel WMA
Maine offers perhaps the best grouse hunting in all of New England. One good hunting area is the 6,488 acre Lt. Gordon Manuel WMA. In 2003, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife began a program to manage part of the forest for grouse and woodcock.
Aggressive land-management practices and a good spring nesting season mean that New England's grouse hunters can expect to find good numbers of these prized game birds.
The program's first phase involved clearing four-acre plots throughout the forest. Another project was to cut long strips in the forest. Both actions provided open space for grouse.
Today, the management area is comprised of about 85 percent of mixed poplar stands, cedar lowlands, spruce tracts and hardwoods. The grouse management area covers about 150 acres. About 2 percent of the area consists of open fields. The remaining 13 percent is wetland habitat managed for waterfowl.
The WMA lies off Route 1 about five miles south of Houlton on the Maine-New Brunswick border. From Route 1, turn west onto Hodgdon Road toward Hodgdon. Watch for signs and roadside parking areas.
Maine's 2007 grouse season runs from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. Hunting license fees are $22 for residents and $67 for non-residents. The daily bag limit is four birds.
For more information, call the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife at (207) 287-5202, or visit www.state.me.us/ifw/index.html.
For lodging and travel information, call the Maine Office of Tourism at 1-888-624-6345.
Connecticut Lakes WMA
When one talks of grouse hunting in New Hampshire, the northern tip of the state is at the top of the destination list. The Connecticut Lakes WMA on the Canadian border encompasses over 25,000 acres of old-growth and newly replanted forest. Both provide excellent grouse-hunting opportunities.
The west and east blocks of this WMA contain the best grouse habitat. And according to the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game, these two areas have good grouse numbers, based on hunter surveys and spring drumming counts.
Hunters visiting the area need to come well prepared with provisions. This is a remote area of the state, and services are scarce.
Hunting access is off Route 3, one of the few main roads in the area. Parking is available at the Third Connecticut Lake boat-launching ramp or along Route 3 north or south of the lake. The east block contains steep terrain, while the west block has more lowland areas. Good hiking boots and a compass are mandatory.
New Hampshire's grouse season runs from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. Hunting license fees are $22 for residents and $53 for non-residents. The daily bag limit is four birds, and the season limit is 25. To learn more, visit www.nhfishandwildlife.com, or call the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department at (603) 271-3511.
For lodging and travel information, call the New Hampshire tourism department at 1-800-386-4664.
West Mountain WMA
The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department acquired this 22,738-acre property in the late 1990s. Today, between the WMA and several nearby public easements, hunters have access to nearly 86,000 acres in the northwest corner of Vermont.
The centerpiece of the area is West Mountain, which tops out at 2,733 feet. Terrain varies from the mountainous region to the lowlands in the southwest corner of the property, at 1,100 feet. Spruce and fir dominate the mountaintop. Lower elevations consist of the typical New England mix of birch, maple, beech and other hardwoods.
To add value to the property, hunters will find nine ponds, 75 miles of streams and several wetlands. Because a lumber company owned the property, grouse hunters will find plenty of regenerating forest where birds may be found.
Look for the main entry point on South America Pond Road off Route 105 in Ferdinand. Another noteworthy access is off Route 102 in Maidstone, where gated logging roads lead to Dennis Pond and West Mountain Pond.
Vermont's grouse season runs from Sept. 29 through Dec. 31. Hunting license fees are $16 for residents and $40 for non-residents. The daily bag limit is four birds.
For more information, you can visit www.vtfishandwildlife.com, or call the Fish and Wildlife Department at (802) 241-3700.
For lodging and travel information, call the Vermont tourism department at 1-800-837-6668.