Our Finest November Grouse Hunts

Our Finest November Grouse Hunts

Stock up on shells! The average grouse hunter hits only 10 percent of the birds he shoots at. Here's where to find these brown bombshells on New York's public land this month. (November 2008).

Grouse hunters--and I proudly count myself among the 75,000 of us living in the Empire State--tend to be a bit eccentric. How else can you describe sportsmen who actually look forward to swinging their shotguns at nearly unhittable winged targets, instead of filling their freezers with less elusive aerial dodgers such as ring-necked pheasants, bobwhite quail, mourning doves and various species of waterfowl?

To appreciate the grouse's legendary ability to fly untouched through sprays of number No. 7'‚1/2 shot, visit the New York Department of Environmental Conservation's Web site and check out the report on the state's ongoing grouse research.

According to the study supervisor's summation of 2007 diaries that nearly 300 dedicated grousers turned in, chasing Ol' Ruff is "among the most challenging of sports."

Hunter diaries revealed that the average grouse addict produced about 1.2 flushes per hour and managed to kill only one bird per 10 flushes.

Can you imagine pheasant hunters tolerating that many missed opportunities? I can't, and I'm an ardent rooster-rouster, too.

Of course, as an individual hunter, you may improve on that flushing rate, depending on which thickets you like to plow through on a crisp autumn morning. Finding gold-mine grouse coverts is a secretive, lifetime occupation. But until you accumulate a catalog of private hotspots, why not hone your wingshooting skills on some of the many public hunting grounds in New York--including state forests and wildlife management areas--which hold serious potential for upland gunning?

The following five places are among the Empire State's best for grouse hunting this fall:

ALLEGANY STATE PARK
If not for the Adirondack and Catskill forest preserves, Allegany State Park in Cattaraugus County would be New York's largest public hunting grounds. Most of its 65,000 acres are open to law-abiding sportsmen, and are well worth exploring for ruffed grouse. They are common in the park, though to find them consistently, you must do some serious walking.

Most of the park's grouse will be found in the steep backcountry, away from major access roads or in the alder thickets along beaver ponds that lend character to local trout streams.

The park's 80 miles of recreational trails (built for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and horseback riding) make access a bit easier.

I like the steep hills and hollows off Wolf Run, one of the park's main roads. But many other spots on the premises appear just as birdy.

Visiting hunters will find their own coverts using the interior road map available from the park police headquarters at (716) 354-9191.

Hunters must stop there anyway, to pick up a free (but mandatory) hunting permit, and to see about reserving a cabin or trailer space.

Reservations are recommended, if not a must. In the event that the cabin or tent site you want is already taken, contact the Cattaraugus County Tourism office at (716) 938-9111 about other lodging opportunities in the area.

One drawback to the park, in the eyes of weekend hunters, is that Sunday hunting is not permitted.

The state park lies south of Salamanca off Exit 18 on U.S. Route 86 (formerly Route 17, the Southern Tier Expressway).

HI TOR WMA
Turkeys and ruffed grouse benefit from habitat work at the Hi Tor Wildlife Management Area in Ontario and Yates counties, where projects funded by the Ruffed Grouse Society and the National Wild Turkey Federation have been mutually beneficial.

Hi Tor now totals more than 6,300 acres following recent acquisitions. It had good grouse cover before, but it's even better now.

Many of Hi Tor's grouse live on the 1,000-acre South Hill portion of the WMA--which lies off South Hill Road northeast of Naples--or in the 3,400-acre sector, which sprawls to the east and southeast of the same village off county Route 21, Bassett Road and Brink Road.

Both chunks of state land are dauntingly steep in places, but those wooded gullies and grapevine tangles are full of birds.

Hi Tor WMA wraps around the south end of Canandaigua Lake at Naples.

State Route 21 parallels the west shore of the lake, and state Route 245 leads to Naples from the east.

For information on lodging in the Naples area, contact the Finger Lakes Tourism Office at 1-800-530-7488.

HOWLAND ISLAND WMA
At first glance, whether you're scouting on foot or with a topographic map, Howland Island doesn't look like grouse cover. In fact, this WMA near the Cayuga County village of Port Byron is managed primarily for waterfowl reproduction and is dotted with more than two dozen marshes and ponds.

But zero in on the dry land between potholes, and you'll notice woodlots and brushy thickets scattered among hills and hollows.

You can check out these pockets of partridge habitat yourself while toting a brochure-map available at the DEC's Region 8 office, at (586) 226-2466. Don't plan on any drive-by scouting, though, as motor vehicles are generally not permitted on the 3,600-acre island. Howland Island hunters must park near either of two bridges closed to automotive traffic and hoof it into the interior. Hunter diaries kept by nearly 300 grouse addicts revealed that the average hunter prduced about 1.2 flushes per hour and managed to kill only one bird per 10 flushes. Can you imagine pheasant hunters tolerating that many missed opportunities?

The island was formed when canal-diggers carved a shortcut across a bend in the Seneca River.

It can be reached from the east by taking the Thruway to the Weedsport exit, and then following Route 31 west to Port Byron. From there, go north on Route 38 and turn left onto Howland Island Road.

Access on the west side of the island is via the Savannah-Spring Lake Road and Carncross Road, which ends at a pedestrian bridge.

For lodging suggestions near the management area, contact the Cayuga County Regional Information Center at 1

-800-499-9615.

PARTRIDGE RUN WMA

Any place named Partridge Run has its share of grouse, year in and year out. It's a big place, spanning more than 5,400 acres in the Albany County town of Berne.

The local hills, part of the Helderberg Highlands, are covered with maple, ash, aspen and birch, with some pine plantations. There are some mowed clearings, too. Though the west and east ends of the property are quite steep, most of the property has pretty much a rolling or moderate slope.

To reach Partridge Run from Albany, take county Route 443 west, and then follow county Route 6 south to the management area.

The DEC's Region 4 office in Stamford, at (607) 652-7367, can provide a free brochure-map. For lodging information, contact the Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau at (518) 434-1217.

HUDSON VALLEY STATE FORESTS
DEC wildlife biologists, who may be reached at (845) 256-3098, have an in-house booklet, Region 3 State Forests and Wildlife Management Areas, which includes maps of hunting lands ranging in size from fewer than 100 acres to more than 1,000.

Down-staters with several days on their hands can profit by driving an hour or two farther from the Big Apple. But city dwellers who need a Saturday morning getaway should be able to enjoy a few flushes at any of the Putnam or Dutchess county tracts.

State parcels in Putnam County include 296-acre California Hollow State Forest. It's heavily wooded and is located off Gordon and Peekskill Hollow roads in the town of Putnam Valley.

About half of White Pond WMA's 276 acres are taken up by its namesake fishing hole. But the dry land around the property does have some birds. The same may be said for the Pudding Street State Forest, which covers 74 acres on Pudding Street in Putnam Valley.

Big Buck State Forest, however, can provide several hours of good hunting among mixed conifers and hardwoods. Look for the Big Buck property about a mile east of White Pond MUA off Farmers Mills Road.

In Dutchess County, grouse-ready properties include the Depot Hill forest, a 260-acre tract on Depot Hill Road about 10 miles west of Pawling; the 909-acre Taconic-Hereford forest, off the Taconic Parkway and Mastin and Tyrell roads about two miles east of Pleasant Valley; and the 595-acre Stissing Mountain Forest, which is off Hicks Hill Road in the town of Stanford.

For help finding lodging, contact the Putnam County Visitors Bureau at 1-800-470-4854, or the Dutchess County Tourism Promotion office at 1-800-445-3131.'‚'‚'‚

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