Our Finest Fall Grouse Hunts

Our Finest Fall Grouse Hunts

Skeptics may differ, but grouse are where you find them. These proven public lands should produce good shooting this month. Lace up your hiking boots and get going! (October 2007)

Photo by Tim Lesmeister.

When it comes to grouse hunting in Ohio, the news is both good and bad. The bad news is that for decades, Ohio's grouse populations have been on a slow, steady decline. Modern forestry practices and the public's love affair with big trees have transformed Ohio's once-healthy mixed forestlands into endless stands of climax forest, which are not conducive to sustaining grouse populations.

Now for the good news.

Throughout Ohio, local grouse populations are on the rise, which means there is still plenty of good hunting available. The ingredients for a successful grouse hunt include knowing where the birds are and a willingness to work to get to them.

We'll supply the "where to go" information for hunters willing to put in an honest day's work climbing the slopes and making their way through thick, tangled cover.

Here's where to find some good grouse hunting in Ohio this fall:

DISTRICT FOUR

The Ohio Division of Wildlife's District Four is no doubt the cornerstone of Buckeye State grouse hunting. This unglaciated, forested region has always been the place to be for ruffed grouse.

The center of southeastern Ohio's grouse lands is the 63,000-acre Shawnee State Forest, the largest of Ohio's state forests.

"Shawnee is probably the top destination for grouse hunting in the district because of the severe ice storm that occurred in February 2003," said Mike Reynolds, an Ohio Division of wildlife biologist. "It caused quite a bit of disturbance and opened up the forest canopy. This allowed dense shrubs like greenbrier and other small trees to fill in."

As every grouse hunter knows, the best grouse cover is the thickest. Stands of 5- to 15- year-old saplings with low, woody cover are perfect for grouse. By the time the 2007 upland season opens, the areas that were affected by the ice storm will be 4 1/2 years old, which means they'll be prime grouse cover.

Shawnee State Forest is bisected by state Route 125. Reynolds recommends exploring the region south of the highway, where the storm was most severe. He noted that in this region, there are thousands of acres of habitat worth exploring.

Based on recent Grouse Hunter Diary returns, Buckeye State hunters can expect slightly more than one flush per hour of hunting here in Scioto County. This was the best flush rate in the state.

The best way to access the southern portion of the forest is via its network of forestry maintenance roads. Just pick a road and drive until you find good grouse habitat.

But be prepared to work because as Reynolds notes, this is one of the toughest areas in Ohio to hunt. Only the southern reaches of Monroe and Washington counties near the Ohio River match the steep, rugged terrain. The huge numbers of blowdowns, which have created the new grouse habitat, can make walking through this area a challenge.

Reynolds' last tip is to check out the ridges where thickets of greenbrier exist. Many hunters report that this is where they have been flushing the most birds.

For maps or more information, contact the ODOW's District Four office, 360 East State Street, Athens OH 45701; or call (740) 589-9930. Also contact the Shawnee State Forest office, 13291 U.S. Route 52, West Portsmouth, OH 45663-8906; or call (740) 858-6685.

In addition to Shawnee State Forest, Reynolds also recommended Zaleski State Forest in Vinton County and Tar Hollow State Forest in Ross County. Both are actively managed for timber, and continuous cuttings have created areas of new growth. In addition, both state forests also contain grouse-management areas, parcels of land specifically managed to create better grouse habitat.

These management areas are open to hunting and receive some pressure they are still worth a look. Biologists and forest managers report plenty of grouse drumming every spring in these management areas.

The Zaleski State Forest Grouse Management Area is off Baptist Church Road and Atkinson Road via state Route 278. The Grouse Management Area is east of Route 278 in Zaleski.

Tar Hollow hunters can access the grouse management area, which lies in the northwestern corner of the property, via Coey Hollow Road and state forest roads 11 and 12.

At both locations, hunters can expect rugged terrain, but not as steep or daunting as Shawnee State Forest with fewer blowdowns.

According to data collected from the Grouse Hunter Diary survey, Vinton County yielded .7 flushes per hour, or one bird per 1 1/2 hours of hunting. Ross County was slightly lower with .5 flushes per hour, or one flush per two hours of hunting.

Don't expect to get a shot every 15 minutes, but hunters who target the best cover will find birds.

For more information about the 28,000-acre Zaleski State Forest, contact the ODOW's District Four office, or the forest headquarters at Zaleski State Forest, P.O. Box 330, State Route 278, Zaleski, Ohio 45698; or call (740-596-5781).

The ingredients for a successful grouse hunt include knowing where the birds are and a willingness to work to get to them.

For more information regarding 16,120-acre Tar Hollow State Forest, contact the ODOW's District Four office, or the forest headquarters at Tar Hollow State Forest, 2731 Stoney Creek Road, Chillicothe, OH 45601: or call 1-877-247-8733.

Timbering also occurs on the lands commonly known as the Mead Paper Company Lands. These private company holdings in Vinton and Jackson counties have been opened to public hunting through agreements with the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

However, ownership of these lands has changed several times in the last few years, and so access to these lands and hunting regulations are constantly changing. Some of the lands are leased, closed or owned by another company.

Reynolds suggests calling the ODOW's District Four office for the most current updates. You will then get an accurate update on specific tracts open to public hunting.

These lands are definitely wort

h an outing. Recent timbering activity has created some solid grouse habitat.

DISTRICT THREE

Southeastern Ohio is the focal point of grouse hunting in Ohio, but there is some equally good grouse hunting in northeastern Ohio's District Three.

Biologist Reynolds and Jeff Janosik, a District Three area manager, agree that Brush Creek Wildlife Area is the best place to be for great grouse gunning this fall.

Janosik conducts annual drumming surveys each spring. During the latest survey at Brush Creek, he heard grouse at three out of 10 stops. He has also heard drumming birds while turkey hunting on the property.

Brush Creek contains 4,131 acres of primarily wooded rolling landscape in Columbiana County. Brush Creek runs through the center of the property, but the key for grouse hunters are the area's 18 forest management sites -- 4- to 10-acre plots that have been cut to create younger, thicker stands. These sites are now about six years old, so the cover is nearly perfect for grouse.

These sites include cut poplar stands where the landscape has filled in with raspberries and blackberries. The oak stands that have been cut are now full of sapling oaks. All of the forest management sites are conveniently marked with white signs and are scattered throughout the property.

Janosik welcomes calls from hunters interested in visiting this area. He is willing to mark maps of the forest management areas so they can get in on the action this fall.

He noted out that as it turns colder, the southeastern slopes seem to hold the most birds. As always, the slopes covered with blowdowns and grapevine thickets should be prime cold-weather targets. Also, most grouse seem to hold in the mid-slope areas.

Access to Brush Creek Wildlife Area is provided by state Route 164, which skirts the northwestern edge of the area. Follow township roads 293 or 298 southeast to reach the heart of the property.

For a map or more information, contact the ODOW's District Three office at 912 Portages Lakes Drive, Akron, OH 44319; or call (330) 644-2293. Hunters may also call Janosik at the Highlandtown Wildlife Area office at (330) 679-2201.

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