November's Top Grouse Hunts

November's Top Grouse Hunts

Strides are being made in improving New York's grouse habitat on public lands. Here's where to find a limit of birds near you this month. (November 2009)

Although the New York Department of Environmental Conservation does not conduct systematic studies or surveys to monitor grouse populations, several surveys, including the Breeding Bird Survey conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and the New York Breeding Bird Survey, a statewide survey designed to reveal the distribution of breeding birds in New York, support what grouse hunters have known for quite some time.

Since the 1960s, there has been a decline in grouse numbers by as much as 75 percent or 4.7 percent each year, according to these surveys! There seems to be several factors for the decline, but the primary factor is diminishing suitable habitat.

Back in the 1960s and '70s, abandoned farm and agricultural lands were reverting to young forests. Emerging forests offer a diversity of habitat types and are therefore good for grouse. Those forests have now matured past the "prime" stage for grouse.

The greatest densities of grouse have always been where farms and agricultural lands were abandoned, where active timber harvesting creates clear-cuts and where new habitat is created naturally by fires, storms or disease. That is also true today. Unfortunately, these habitats have dwindled in recent years and consequently, grouse numbers have declined.

Despite all this, grouse hunting in New York is not lost. Far from it. Although numbers may be down, grouse are still common throughout the state and about 75,000 hunters take 150,000 birds annually, making grouse the second most hunted game bird behind wild turkeys.

This is especially true along the St. Lawrence Valley in the north down through the Otsego-Delaware county hills and parts of the Adirondacks into the East Appalachian Plateau. And in the Catskills, studies have shown flush rates slightly above the statewide average. These areas in particular have some of the best grouse habitat in New York, but pockets of prime habitat may be found throughout the state.

The DEC is taking steps to reverse the grouse decline over the past 40 years. As most experienced hunters know, if you find the habitat you will find birds! On a number of state forests and wildlife management areas programs involving timber harvesting, mowing, controlled burns, planting of wildlife shrubs and food plots are underway to improve habitat conditions and hunting opportunities for grouse. Chapters of the Ruffed Grouse Society are also doing their part by funding habitat improvements on several public land areas.

"Nature" is contributing as well. In several other areas of the state severe wind, ice and snowstorms in recent years have devastated hundreds of acres of mature forests creating better grouse habitat.

Along with these efforts, the DEC currently has two hunter participation programs underway that will provide vital data on grouse abundance and distribution. In 2005, the Cooperative Ruffed Grouse Hunting Log was initiated. Hunters log the number of birds flushed, the number of birds bagged, total days hunted and whether a dog was used. Flush rates are important because they indicate population trends when viewed over a long time.

Hunters interested in participating may request forms and a postage-paid return envelope by telephoning (518) 402-8883.

The Ruffed Grouse Drumming Survey asks spring turkey hunters to log the number of birds heard drumming during the spring breeding season, day and month, county and wildlife management unit, whether hunting public or private land, hours afield, etc.

The information will allow biologists to compile an index of grouse abundance and distribution over large geographic regions of the state. This is an improvement over the traditional drumming surveys that often target routes that no longer have suitable grouse habitat.

Interested hunters may obtain survey forms by contacting the NY DEC, Grouse Drumming Survey, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4654, or call (418) 402-8883. Forms may also be downloaded on the DEC's Web site at www.dec.ny.gov.

With all this in mind, here are 10 spots where hunters should have success flushing grouse this month on public ground:

REGION 6

Frank E. Jadwin State Forest

Located in the townships of Diana and Groghan in Lewis County south of Gouverneur, Jadwin State Forest covers more than 20,400 acres and is one of the largest state forests in New York. Most important to grouse hunters, however, are the 12,000 acres of hardwoods and 500 acres of brush land, all of which hold good numbers of birds. More than 5,000 acres of planted softwoods also attract grouse.

From Route 11 and Gouverneur, take Route 812 south to Harrisville. From Harrisville, take Route 3/812 south three miles to Tylers Corners where Route 812 splits, heads due south and quickly enters the forest.

From Route 812 and other roads, over 18 miles of gravel roads lead into and through the forest. including the Jarden Falls Road which parallels Route 812 along the forest's eastern boundary. All offer quick and easy access to some prime hunting areas.

Tug Hill WMA

This 5,100-acre wildlife area is on the Tug Plateau in the southwest portion of Lewis County about seven miles south of state Route 177. The property may be reached from Interstate Route 81 south of Watertown by taking state Route 177 east through Barnes Corners to Bellwood and then continuing south through Gardner's Corners, Rector and Parkers.

Tug Hill Wildlife Management Area offers a variety of habitat, including areas where mixed hardwoods and softwoods dominate, but approximately 3,200 acres are covered with northern hardwoods.

Of importance to grouse hunters is the fact these areas are commercially harvested, maintaining the forest in various stages of succession. A seven-mile truck route winds through the property and leads to some prime grouse-hunting areas, but some of the best hunting will be found by walking the logging roads in these managed hardwoods lots. The thick alder and brush bottoms and edges along associated wetlands along the Deer River, Edick Creek, Sevenmile Creek and Mulligan Creek also offer good grouse-hunting potential.

For more information on these two public hunting areas, interested hunters should contact the DEC's Region 6 office in Watertown at (315) 785-2252.

DEC REGION 7

Connecticut Hills WMA

Totaling more than 11,000 acres, Connecticut Hills WMA is the largest wildlife management areas in New Y

ork. Among grouse hunters it is also one of the best known. Between 1930 and 1942, the property was the location of the Connecticut Hill Grouse Study, still considered one of the best studies ever conducted on the species.

The property is about 16 miles southwest of Ithaca along the Schuyler-Tompkins county line. Access to the property's eastern portion is from state Route 13 and local roads such as Boylan Hill, Slovsky Hill and Carter Creek roads near Newfield.

The western portions may be reached from state Route 6 using Connecticut Hill Road, which winds through much of the property. The Swan Hill Road out of Alpine offers access to the property's southern end, and several interior roads off these roads, such as Cabin Road, offer easy access to various sections of the area.

Sitting along the Appalachian Highlands, the topography of this wildlife area consists of rolling, rugged hills and steep ridges. The most successful grouse hunters find themselves doing a lot of uphill and downhill maneuvering along east- and south-facing slopes.

The hardwood forest covering the area consists of oak, birch, maple and beech with some pine and hemlock. The area also has some open meadows and old fields.

Turkey Hill State Forest

Turkey Hill State Forest, also known as Tioga No. 5, covers 1,108 acres in the towns of Berkshire and Richmond in northeastern Tioga County. The terrain is generally hilly and covered with a dense mixture of hardwoods and softwoods, all of which provide some challenging grouse-hunting opportunities.

The area is a popular destination for bird hunters from the Ithaca area, and has become even more popular since the ice storm of 2003 created some new successional habitat.

To find this public property from Ithaca, take state Route 79 south to Richmond and turn right onto Hog Hollow Road. After approximately one-half mile, turn left onto Tubbs Hill Road, which bisects the forest. A forest access road may also be accessed from Tubbs Hill Road.

Cuyler Hill State Forest

This large state forest covers more than 5,500 acres in the towns of Cuyler and Taylor on the northeast border of Cortland and Chenango counties. The rugged, rolling terrain varies between 1,245 feet and 2,080 feet in elevation and is covered with a variety of habitat suitable for grouse.

A variety of northern hardwoods, pine, hemlock, spruce, larch and cedar cover the area. The grouse shooting will be in tight quarters, but the property contains plenty of birds.

Fifteen streams drain the forest. The streambeds and nearby ridges are good places to find birds, although some uphill and downhill trekking will be required. Recent clearcuts are also prime grouse areas.

The forest features over eight miles of hiking trails and more than 12 miles of snowmobile trails.

To access this forest from the Cortland area, take state Route 13 east to the Cheningo Road, and turn south for approximately four miles to the Cheningo Solon Pond Road. Turn left (east) and travel 3.5 miles east to the Cuyler Hill Road and turn left.

Continue approximately one mile, and then turn east onto Randall Hill Road. About two miles ahead is the Cuyler Hill Public Access Road. This road runs the length of the forest in a north-south direction.

For more information on these properties, hunters may contact the DEC's Region 7 sub-office in Cortland at (607) 753-3095.

REGION 5

Lewis Preserve WMA

This 1,356-acre parcel is a relatively new addition to the list of DEC properties, coming in 1987 as a gift from the Adirondack Nature Conservancy and Dr. and Mrs. Revis Lewis.

The area is in the town of Altoona, east of Alder Bend Road between Terrien Road on the north end and Jerusalem Road on the south. The Great Chazy River runs along much of the area's western boundary. A 2.8-mile hiking trail through the property joins parking lots on both roads and offers easy access to some prime grouse areas.

Except for some wetlands along King and Brandy brooks in the southern section, the entire area is considered upland habitat. Some open fields will be found on the north and south ends, but second growth stands of aspen, maple, ash, beech and birch mixed with spruce and fir dominate the property, especially on the south end. Stands of white cedar will be found along the brooks.

The north portion offers overgrown pasture with stands of aspen, white birch and apple, which are pruned annually to enhance fruit production.

For more information on this property, contact the DEC's Region 5 office in Ray Brook at (518) 897-1291.

EAST OF THE HUDSON

The counties on the east side of the Hudson River offer public-land grouse-hunting opportunities. Bird numbers and flush rates are down a bit from the state average, but the area holds plenty of birds.

In Rensselaer County, the Capital District WMA covers 4,144 acres of uplands in the Taconic Range not far from the Massachusetts border in the towns of Berlin and Stephentown. The area offers mixed hardwood ridges, brush and thickets, good areas to work a dog or stalk birds. A series of hiking trails offer access to some good hunting in the property's backcountry.

To access the property from Albany or Troy, travel to Sand Lake and take county Route 42 east five miles through Taborton to Miller Road on the right. The property begins about one-half mile after the turn and Miller Road runs north-south through the area.

For more information, contact the DEC's Region 4 office in Schenec­tady at (518) 357-2049.

In Dutchess County, the Tivoli Bays WMA south of Tivoli covers more than 1,720 acres in the Hudson River estuary. There is a considerable amount of upland cover that holds grouse.

To get there, take Route 9G south three miles from Tivoli to a parking lot.

In Putnam County, the Cranberry Mountain WMA in Patterson is small at 467 acres but is primarily upland in nature. The area is east of Route 22 and has a parking area on Stage Coach Road.

For more information, contact the DEC's Region 3 office in New Paltz at (845) 256-3098.

REGION 8

Rattlesnake Hill WMA

This 5,100-acre parcel is one of the better spots to hunt grouse in the western region of the state. About eight miles west of Dansville, two-thirds of the property rests in southern Livingston County with the remainder in northern Allegany County.

Access to the area is via state Route 436 west from Dansville to county Route 9, which leads directly to the public area. South of Dalton, Route 70 nips the property's southwest corner, and going west out of Ossian Center, Dannac

k Hill Road and Ebert Road cut through the property.

Rattlesnake Hill WMA offers a mixed bag of prime grouse habitat. Hunters will find stands of mature hardwoods, some conifer plantations and brushy, over-grown fields, open meadows and old apple orchards.

Some small marshlands have been developed on the property. The edge cover and thickets along Sugar Creek, Hovey Brook and Canaserago Creek should produce birds.

Ossian State Forest

This forest covers 1,300 acres and is adjacent to Rattlesnake Hill WMA on its southeast corner. It is about two miles northeast of Swain, in the town of Ossian. To access the area from Dansville, take the Ossian Hill Road to Ossian continuing west on Linzey Road, turning south (left) onto the Scoville Road. This will lead to the east side of the property.

The grouse hunting is considered quite good, but the area has no designated trails. Many parts of the forest require significant walking to explore and hunt, especially in the western portions. There are, however, miles of maintained forest roads that are open during hunting season.

For more information on these two properties, contact the DEC's Region 8 office in Avon at (585) 226-2466.

REGION 9

Boutwell Hill WMU

This management unit includes Boutwell State Forest, Canadaway WMA and one other state forest in the towns of Arkwright, Charlotte and Cherry Creek in Chautauqua County. Combined, the three parcels offer 5,125 acres of good grouse habitat.

To reach the state forest from Cassadaga, take Route 72 west to Route 77 south. Take Route 77 south to Ruttenbur Road and turn left onto Lewis Road. There is a parking lot on the immediate left.

Other access points will be found on Ruttenbur Road, Boutwell Road and Erin Road (county Route 85).

Canadaway WMA is 2,160 acres north of Boutwell State Forest. The area is bordered by county Route 312 (Bard Road) and county Route 629 (Center Road).

The primary management goal is to develop and maintain high-quality grouse habitat through regulated timber harvesting. Mixed hardwoods cover much of the area, but pine and spruce are also evident, and in most areas, a thick understory provides ample cover for birds.

Both properties feature more than 14 miles of hiking and snowmobile trails. All lead to some prime isolated bird hunting areas.

For more information on these areas, contact the DEC's Region 9 office in Falconer at (716) 665-6111.

Additional information and maps may also be found on the DEC's Web site at www.dec.ny.gov.

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