Our Finest October Grouse Hunts

New England's upland game managers have been working hard to improve grouse habitat, and their efforts are producing the desired results. Here's where you can get in on the action this season.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

The leaves are falling rapidly and hunters can feel the crisp chill in the autumn morning air. Upland hunters know it is finally time to chase ruffed grouse in New England.

Some parts of New England are blessed with good populations of grouse. States lacking suitable cover have undergone thinning of mature hardwood stands and new seedlings have been planted. Some hunters and biologists believe this fall could be one of the better grouse-hunting seasons in recent years.

Here is a look at a few places to go for good grouse gunning in New England this October.

MAINE

Dickwood WMA

Maine traditionally offers some of the best grouse hunting in New England. One noteworthy hunting spot is the 4,300-acre Dickwood Wildlife Management Area, which sits close to the Canadian border. This region has a well-balanced mix of hardwood and evergreen forests. It also contains many small ponds and brooks to keep the birds supplied with water. Nearby timbered forest plots are also worth hunting.

Access to the area is a few miles north of Eagle Lake. From southern Maine, follow Interstate Route 95 to Houlton. Travel north on Route 1 to Presque Isle and then head west on Route 163 to Route 11. Drive north on Route 11 into the town of Eagle Lake.

Hunters may access Dickwood WMA by turning left onto Devoe Brook Road in Eagle Lake Center. That road leads into the southern portion of the forest.

Another option is to drive through Eagle Lake on Route 11 for about seven miles to Wallagrass Lake Road. Turn left toward the northern end of the forest.

Both the north and south access roads are passable with two-wheel-drive vehicles. If you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle, you can drive into the center of the forest on Gilmore Brook Road about three miles north of Eagle Lake on Route 11.

North Woods

The area north of Moosehead Lake in Piscataquis and Somerset counties is often referred to as the North Woods. It is the most lightly populated area of the state and is marked by large tracts of spruce and fir forest. Generally, this area provides excellent hunting opportunities for ruffed grouse.

Access to the southern portion of the region around the lake often requires landowner permission. However, in the northern forest, most of the land is owned or managed by commercial timber companies. Hunting is readily permitted. Here you will find hundreds of gravel roads, which can be traversed by both four- and two-wheel-drive vehicles. Walking is an option on gated roadways.

Over the past 30 years, large tracts of mature forest have been harvested for pulp, lumber and other timber products. Today, hunters will find an abundance of young, regenerating stands in the region. This re-forestation has created a healthy and thriving grouse population.

To get to the big woods, take I-95 to Exit 39 in Newport. Travel east on Route 7 to Route 6 in Dover-Foxcroft and then follow Route 6 northward to Moosehead Lake in Greenville. From here, you can travel along either side of the lake to access hunting grounds.

The east side of the lake leads hunters to Piscataquis County and forests along Prong Pond Mountain, Number Four Mountain and the Penobscot River valley. The west side of the lake leads into Somerset County near Ironbound Mountain and the Green Mountain complex.

This is a remote area of Maine with few facilities. Come prepared with all the necessities for a day's hunt (spare gas, food, water, etc).

VERMONT

Arthur Davis WMA

This 7,788-acre parcel is owned and managed by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. It is in south-central Vermont, in the towns of Reading and Plymouth. The forest also shares a boundary with the Plymsbury Wildlife Management Area. In combination, these parcels make up one of the largest blocks of undeveloped state-owned land in southern Vermont.

This area is forested with maples, birch and beech. Red spruce and white pine are lightly mixed throughout the property. Timber rights in Arthur Davis WMA are separately owned and the area is actively logged. This annual clearing within the forest attracts and holds grouse.

Forest managers also maintain some apple orchards remaining from long-abandoned homesteads. Several small streams, ponds and beaver-created wetlands add to the area's habitat mix.

Hunters will find several access points to Arthur Davis WMA. Take Exit 8 off I-91 onto Route 131. Follow Route 131 west to Route 106 north. In Felchville, turn left toward South Reading on Tyson Reading Road. Watch for access points on this road or turn north onto either Reading Pond Road or North Puckerbrush Road.

Pond Woods WMA

This area is another gem owned by the state. At 2,111 acres, hunters have plenty of room to look for grouse.

At one time, Pond Woods supported a logging operation and woodcarving factory. The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department acquired most of the property in 1962. Today, Pond Woods has a fine diversity of upland and wetland habitat. In the northeast corner of the WMA, hunters will find Mud Pond, a long, narrow 12-acre pond bordered by steep slopes. This region offers some good grouse habitat.

Hunters will find "poor fens" scattered throughout the area. A fen is an open, acidic peat land dominated by mosses, sedges and heath shrubs. They are close relatives to bogs and are attractive to grouse.

In hilly areas, such as Bishop Hill and Oak Hill, mature forests dominate, with a mix of maple, birch, beech, red oak, hickory and hemlock.

Pond Woods is in the town of Benson on the west side of the state. From Brandon, take Route 73 west to Route 22A. Travel south on Route 22A to Perch Pond Road and Bishop Hill Road. Either road will take hunters into Pond Woods Wildlife Management Area.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Pittsburg Area

The Pittsburg area in northern New Hampshire offers a wealth of public grouse hunting territory. Hunters will find about a dozen special wildlife management areas, including the Connecticut Lakes Wildlife Management Area, Lake Francis Wildlife Management Area and the Brown Wildlife Management Area. Also, the neighboring forest tracts are actively timbered and mo

st are open to hunting.

Much of the area is lowlands with a mixture of marsh, swamp and bog. Grouse hunters should work the edges of these lowlands. The better hunting is away from the water in the forested areas of Brown Wildlife Management Area, Brundage Forest and Gray Wildlife Management Area, where there is a mixture of hardwood and pine forests.

Access to this area is from Route 3, the only major road into Pittsburg. This road winds through 30 miles of backcountry from Beecher Falls to Pittsburg and on into Canada.

On the northwest side of Route 3, look for good hunting off Back Lake Road, Day Road, Ramblewood Road and any of the gravel roads north of Second Connecticut Lake.

Enfield WMA

This 4,424-acre tract of land is frequently overlooked by grouse hunters because of its close proximity to tourist areas. But while several nearby state forests receive heavy hunting pressure, the Enfield Wildlife Management Area is often ignored.

The area is split into two different parts. The southern portion is larger with several ponds, including Smith Pond, Cole Pond and Butternut Pond. Hunters will also find several small brooks and plenty of mixed hardwood forest here. This section of the forest is sloped to flat for easy hunting. Conversely, the northern portion of the area is relatively dry and densely forested. It is also steeper. Because of the hilly terrain, you are apt to encounter fewer hunters here than in the southern section.

Access is off I-89. To get into the southern portion, take exit 14 or 15 off I-89. From Exit 14, take Route 10 south to Butternut Pond Road. You can park at the pond's access road and walk into the hunting area. From Exit 15, head toward Shaker Village and Route 4A. Take Route 4A south to Town Farm Road or Bog Road. Traveling north on Route 4A, access to the northern section is north of the Mascoma Lake boat-launching ramp.

MASSACHUSETTS

Fox Den WMA

In western Massachusetts, grouse hunters will enjoy poking through Fox Den Wildlife Management Area in the towns of Middlefield, Worthington and Chester. Most of the state's grouse population resides in the western portion of the state. Many find their way into Fox Den. This area is one of the larger land tracts in the state at 3,770 acres.

Most of the region is forested with beech, maple, birch and white ash. Foresters have clear-cut small sections within the forest to create new grouse habitat. Hunters will also find some scattered white pine and hemlock along stream corridors, in shaded ravines and on poor drainage areas. There is also a Norway spruce plantation in the Middlefield section of the forest. When hunting the area, expect to cross several small, unnamed brooks and the larger Tuttle Brook.

This area includes several sections. The best way to get to Fox Den is from Route 8 in Hinsdale. Take Route 143 east from Hinsdale to West Worthington. Turn onto East River Road southward. Parking areas and logging roads are along this road.

Another good access point is in Middlefield. Continue south on East River Road to Cone Road. Turn right, and then take the next right onto Chipman Road. Pull-offs on Chipman Road provide access to the spruce plantation.


Some hunters and biologistsbelieve this fall could be one of the better grouse-hunting seasons in recent years.
 

Blandford and Huntington Conservation Easement

Grouse hunters will find this region interesting. It only has 405 acres, but it borders the 2,300-acre Chester-Blandford State Forest. This is a hilly area with elevations ranging from 400 to 1,380 feet.

The forest has a little of everything that attracts grouse. Part of the forest is made up of oak trees, which drop plenty of acorns. Another portion has a mixture of beech, maple and birch. Hemlocks also line the streams. For added attraction, the understory and open areas are dominated by mountain laurel, striped maples, hop hornbeam and witch hazel.

This forest is easy to find. Take Exit 3 off the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90). Travel east on Route 20 for about 20 miles. Pass Chester and the West Branch Westfield River, and watch for the signs for Chester-Blandford State Forest. Pass the forest access road and pull into the easement's roadside parking areas.

CONNECTICUT

Housatonic State Forest

No discussion on Connecticut grouse hunting would be complete without mentioning Housatonic State Forest. At 7,181 acres, it is one of the state's largest forests. Housatonic State Forest is not one large, contiguous tract of land, however. Through purchases and donations, the state Department of Environmental Protection has assembled a forest consisting of many separate land parcels. One of these is known as the Canaan Mountain Tract.

Canaan Mountain and its twin sister, Bradford Mountain, have plateau-like tops. After a steep climb from the access point, the mountains level off to a mixture of hardwood and evergreen forests. Throughout the area, small patches of clearcuts exist for added grouse habitat.

The main access point is off Route 7 in Canaan. From South Canaan at the junction of routes 7 and 63, travel north on Route 7. After three miles, look on the left side of Route 7 for the Robbins Swamp Wildlife Management Area access point. The Housatonic State Forest access is across the street from Robbins Swamp.

RHODE ISLAND

Black Hut WMA

Rhode Island is a small state with matching small hunting parcels. One of its largest forests, with potential for some good grouse hunting, is the Black Hut Wildlife Management Area. This 1,548-acre forest sits in the north-central portion of the state about 15 miles from Providence.

The forest has a nice blend of hardwood forest, edge habitat and fields. Grouse look to these edges for food and shelter. The better hunting areas are in the southwest portion of the forest. This section is bisected by numerous trails and dirt roads. It is also near the largest open field.

But, as expected, this section is heavily used by hunters. Roadside hunting pressure often means the birds will be deeper in the forest. An alternative hunting plan would be to first access the forest from the north.

Hunters will find several parking areas around Black Hut. Take I-295 from Providence north to Exit 8 at Route 7. Travel north on Route 7 for about seven miles to Nasonville. Continue north on Route 7, now called Douglas Turnpike, for another three miles to a parking area on the left. You may also continue north and turn left onto Ironstone Road. Take the next left onto Spring Lake Road. This road bisects the forest with access points about one mile from the turn.

INFORMATION

Maine

The Maine grouse season runs from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. Hunters need a small-game hunting license, which is $22 f

or residents and $58 for non-residents. The daily bag limit is four birds.

For more information, call the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife at (207) 287-5202 or visit the division's Web site at

www.state.me.us/ifw/index.html.

The Vermont grouse season starts Sept. 25 and runs through Dec. 31. Hunters must possess a small-game hunting license, which is $16 for residents and $85 for non-residents. The daily bag limit is four birds.

For more information, call the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department at (802) 241-3700; or visit their Web site at

www.vtfishandwildlife.com.

The New Hampshire grouse season runs from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. Hunters need a small-game hunting license, which is $22 for residents and $53 for non-residents. The daily bag limit is four birds and the season limit is 25 grouse.

For more information, call the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department at (603) 271-3511; or visit the Web site at

www.nhfishandwildlife.com.

The Massachusetts grouse season runs from Oct. 15 through Nov. 26. Hunters must possess a small-game hunting license, which is $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 the department's Web site at

www.masswildlife.org.

The Connecticut grouse season runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 31. Hunters need a small-game hunting license, which is $15 for residents and $67 for non-residents. The daily bag limit is two birds and the season limit is 10. (The DEP is planning to reduce the grouse limits prior to the season start, so check the latest regulations before proceeding into the woods.)

For more information, call the Wildlife Division at (860) 424-3011; or visit the department's Web site at

www.dep.state.ct.us.

The Rhode Island grouse season runs from Oct. 16 through Dec. 31. Hunters need a small-game hunting license, which is $18 for residents and $45 for non-residents. The daily bag limit is one bird.

For more information, call the Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife at (401) 789-3094; or visit the division's Web site at

www.state.ri.us/dem.

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