Ohio's Finest October Grouse Hunts

Ohio's Finest October Grouse Hunts

Put on your hiking shoes and head for the clearcuts and storm-damaged areas on Ohio's public lands. That's where you'll find the best hunting this month, as our expert explains.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Ruffed grouse may be considered upland game birds, but ruffed grouse hunting is not like any other upland adventure. First, finding grouse requires an able body and a great deal of determination because these birds are often found in dense thickets along steep hillsides. Second, even when you find and flush the birds you still have to contend with the natural shield formed by the landscape. Grouse are masters at sneaking out the back way, and most of the time you'll get one brief moment to point, shoot and hope for the best.

Ruffed grouse are inarguably the most challenging of all upland targets. Most hunters easily take pheasants and quail, but every grouse bagged is cause for celebration. That is what makes ruffed grouse hunting unique and worth the effort.

The majority of the ruffed grouse hunting in Ohio takes place in the southern and eastern portions of the state, where forested hills dominate the landscape.

According to Keith Morrow, the Ohio Division of Wildlife's District Four wildlife management supervisor, aging forests are creating a problem for grouse, which thrive in thick "edge" cover and secondary forests with five to 15 years of growth.

In the late 1960s, Ohio's forests comprised 55 percent saplings, 13 percent pole timber and 32 percent mature trees. The sapling and pole growth provided excellent habitat for grouse. During the late 1970s, when the "energy crisis" forced us to look for alternative energy sources, timber cutting combined with relatively young forests and reverting abandoned farms provided ideal conditions for ruffed grouse. Flush rates averaged one or two birds per hour of hunting through the early 1980s.

Today, the forest mix includes 12 percent saplings, 25 percent pole timber and 63 percent climax forest. This shift has limited the grouse populations. The best counties in Ohio now post approximately one flush per 100 hours of hunting.

Morrow says that a significant rebound in Ohio's grouse population would require widespread cutting to alter the existing forest mix.

While grouse aren't exactly flourishing in Ohio's mature forests, there are definitely bright spots and localized populations. Morrow listed Scioto and Jackson counties as two top picks. An ice storm in February of 2003 drastically altered the landscape in favor of grouse.

"The storm caused a drastic habitat change through most of the forests in those counties. The storms set the habitat back to a brushy stage."

Morrow also recommends Monroe, Washington, Lawrence, and Gallia counties. Here's a closer look at each of these counties and the best places to find grouse on public land this season.

SCIOTO COUNTY

Located along the southern border of the state Scioto County is typical of other southeastern Ohio counties. The landscape is hilly, remote and wooded.

Last year, hunters flushed 1.10 birds per 100 hours of hunting. Hunters with dogs can expect better results. Be willing to scout and work your way to remote coverts that others may not be willing to reach.

At the heart of the county is Shawnee State Forest, also called "the Little Smokies of Ohio." First inhabited by the Shawnee Indians, the forest later supported building stone quarrying and forestry.

In 1922, the state purchased the first 5,000 acres of the forest. Today the forest covers over 60,000 acres, making it the largest of 20 state forests in Ohio. An ice storm that knocked down and uprooted hundreds of thousands of trees have turned the forest into a prime target this fall for grouse hunters. The combination of clear-cuts, downed trees and new brushy growth should improve grouse-hunting opportunities over the next few seasons.

Look for areas with greenbrier and wild grape tangles, which will flourish as Shawnee's new landscape takes shape.

Most of the forest was affected, so it's difficult to pinpoint specific regions for good grouse gunning. Get a map of the forest, pick a remote road and then start working your way into remote sections of the forest, looking for downed trees covered with vines and greenbrier.

For a map or more information, contact the Shawnee State Forest office at 13291 U.S. Route 52, West Portsmouth, OH 45663-8906, or call (740) 858-6685.

Camping is allowed at the 1,165- acre Shawnee Sate Park on state Route 125. For more information, contact the Shawnee State Park office at (740) 858-6652

JACKSON COUNTY

Northeast of Scioto County, Jackson County is biologist Morrow's second recommendation for good grouse hunting. Much of the southern edge of this county is within the Wayne National Forest.

Jackson County hunters recorded just under one flush per 100 hours of hunting last season. Wayne National Forest was one of the better places to be, and this year the hunting should be better still, owing to recovery from damage caused by the 2003 ice storm.

Covering 12 counties and divided into the management units "the Wayne" includes 833,990 acres, although much of that land is under private ownership. However, more than 200,000 acres is open to the public.


The ODOW's Keith Morrow says that a significant rebound in Ohio's grouse population would require widespread cutting to alter the existing forest mix.
 

The Jackson County tracts are part of the Ironton District. The best way to get in on the grouse action this fall is to pick a road near storm-battered forest tracts and start exploring.

For maps or more information, contact the Ironton District office, 6518 State Route 93, Pedro, Ohio 45659, or call (740) 534-6500.

Wayne National Forest also spans Monroe, Washington, Lawrence, and Gallia counties, which should all be productive places to find grouse. Monroe and Washington counties lie within the Marietta Ranger District.

While the Marietta District did not experience any widespread storm damage, there has been some recent timber harvesting. Hunters should contact the district office for assistance in pinpointing regi

ons that have been harvested four to five years ago. Timber cuts up to 15 years old are usually still productive for grouse.

For more information, contact the Marietta Ranger District office, 27750 State Route 7, Marietta, Ohio 45750, or call (740) 373-9055.

Lawrence and Gallia counties are part of the Ironton ranger district. Storm damage was not as intense in these counties as it was in Jackson and Scioto counties, but there should still be good cover to hunt.

Because Wayne National Forest consists of several scattered tracts of public and private land holdings, it's a good idea to scout potential hunting grounds whenever possible, if only to become familiar with boundary markers that designate public and private tracts.

Backcountry camping is allowed within the Wayne National Forest. Additionally, there are several developed campgrounds. Within the Ironton District, camping is available at Timber Ridge Lake (on state Route 775) and Lake Vesuvius Recreation Area (on state Route 93). Both sites are in Lawrence County.

The Marietta District also has sites available at Leith Run (on state Route 7) and Lamping Homestead (on state Route 537). Leith Run is in Washington County and Lamping Homestead is in Monroe County.

For camping information contact the appropriate national forest district office.

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