Our Top 10 October Grouse Hunts

Some excellent fall grouse gunning awaits hunters on public land in eastern Ohio. (October 2009)

A crisp autumn or winter day is the perfect time to spend some glorious hours working the dogs on a grouse hunt. In Ohio, the best hunts will be found in the south and southeastern regions.

Upland bird hunting in these counties presents the kind of hearty challenge that grouse hunters relish. The terrain tends to be hilly and covered with brush and briars.

Grouse are not as abundant in Ohio as they once were, but there are still places where the right kind of habitat exists on public land, and thanks to land management practices already underway, these places are becoming more numerous. Ohio's public wildlife areas offer natural scenery as beautiful as one could wish for, with plenty of opportunities for hunting ruffed grouse. Hunters can still experience the thrill of a bird exploding from cover nearly underfoot and the moment of unparalleled satisfaction when they make the shot and the well-trained dog retrieves the bird. These are the moments grouse hunters anticipate all year, and they are waiting to happen in the pockets of Ohio public land where grouse hide.

According to Mike Reynolds of the Ohio Division of Wildlife, the 2009 grouse season will run from Oct. 10 to Jan. 31. There will be no February hunt this year. The bag limit will be reduced to two birds per day per hunter. However, with an average flush rate of 3.7 birds per hour and a reduction in drumming counts as well, reducing the harvest at this time is an appropriate step toward increasing numbers in the future.

One of the reasons for the abundance of grouse in Ohio in bygone years was the perfect habitat afforded by reverting farmland. Grouse prefer the type of cover afforded by early forest regeneration. Land with trees in the small pole stage, along with plenty of undergrowth, is ideal for grouse. As the reverting farmland grew into timber stage, grouse habitat diminished. Current public land management plans that include clear-cutting and reforestation of mining land are creating more of the type of landscape that provides good grouse hunting territory.

Nate Jester, Shawnee State Forest manager, said that forest management practices are aimed at creating excellent grouse habitat.

"We have maps available showing recent clear-cut areas," Jester said. "A lot of good can come from the practice of clearcutting. I've seen grouse, especially in the transition areas along the clearcuts."

Most of the best grouse hunting areas on public land in Ohio are in District Four. This area features rugged terrain with thorny undergrowth and steep hillsides. With grouse scarcer now than in years gone by, hunters are loath to reveal their best hunting grounds. However, many of the state-owned wildlife areas are being actively managed to create more of the type of habitat that is ideal for grouse and other small game.

The biggest obstacle to maintaining good grouse habitat is the public's perception of practices such as clear-cutting. Freshly clear-cut land doesn't look pretty. In fact, it looks as though it has been destroyed by some giant hand or natural disaster. Towering trees that shelter shady pathways are suddenly replaced by stumps and twisted branches on the ground. It appears that the forest has been destroyed, but in reality, the future of the wildlife area is being preserved.

Healthy wildlife areas with a wide variety of species require a wide variety of growth, including grasslands, wetlands, transitional areas with brushy growth and small trees, and areas of mature forest.

Ideally, grouse carrying capacity will be reached by cutting timber stands in 10- to 12-year cycles. An added benefit is the revenue generated by selling the timber.

Southern Ohio has also been extensively mined, and although mining practices now include land reclamation, the areas have usually been turned into grassland on soil that has been tightly compacted by earth-moving machinery. Recently, mining companies have begun working along with wildlife managers to return the land to a state that will more readily allow the cycle of new forest growth to begin.

According to Dan Kramer, Ohio Department of Wildlife District Three manager, the DNR is working with the Oxford Mining Company to reclaim mining land with new forest growth rather than grassland. Tons of topsoil are dumped in piles on the reclaimed area and trees are planted. Rain erodes the loose soil into natural dips and hills. Instead of the usual smooth, open grassland, this reclaimed mining land will develop into appropriate habitat for grouse and small mammals.

In Harrison and Belmont counties, the American Chestnut Foundation is planting thousands of American Hybrid chestnut trees on public land, and they are doing very well, with a survival rate of over 80 percent.

There is reason to suspect that there may be more grouse available than hunter flush rates indicate. Some sportsmen have reported that grouse have a tendency to run rather than flush, often taking off through the underbrush and angling away from dog and hunter.

Reynolds recommends the period from Halloween through the first two weeks of November for some great hunting for mixed bags of ruffed grouse and woodcock.

The outlook for woodcock continues to be good throughout the state. October is usually dry in Ohio, with temperatures averaging in the 50s and 60s. By November, temperatures drop significantly, reaching a comfortable range for upland hunting, about 10 degrees cooler.

Most of Ohio's public wildlife regions offer pockets of excellent habitat, where forest and grassland adjacent to brushy transitional growth create the borders where grouse will most likely be found. The following 10 locations offer good grouse habitat and should afford some fine hunting this fall.

DISTRICT THREE

Leesville Lake Wildlife Area

Leesville Lake Wildlife Area in Carroll County is south of Carrollton along state Route 332. The area consists of three separate land parcels totaling 394 acres. Land management practices include clearcuts on small blocks of older timber, which, along with adjacent wooded areas, produce excellent grouse hunting. The area is home to a wide variety of plants and wildlife.

Campgrounds, hotels, bed and breakfasts and cabins are available in the Carrollton area.

More information is available from the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, P.O. Box 349, 1319 Third Street N.W., New Philadelphia, OH 44663. Call toll-free at (877) 363-8500 or (330) 343-6647. Or, e-mail the district office at info@ mwcdlakes.com.

Jockey Hollow Wildlife Area

Jockey Hollow Wildlife Area is six miles southwest of Cadiz in Harrison County. It may be reached from U.S. Route 22 and state Route 519. It is covered with mostly second-growth forest interspersed with brushy areas and grassland.

A forest reclamation project is underway on this area. Mined land is being reclaimed with trees planted in large piles of loose soil, as opposed to traditional replanted mine areas with grass planted on compacted soil. Research indicates that within six years, these trees will be 10 to 12 feet tall and producing seeds.

The ruffed grouse population is expected to grow along with this increase in desirable habitat. Lodging is available in Cadiz as well as in Flushing, to the south.

There is a campground a few miles to the east at Clendening Lake.

More information is available from the area manager, Highlandtown Wildlife Area, 16760 Springvalley Road, Salineville, OH 43945. Call (330) 679-2201 or try the ODOW's Wildlife District Three Office, 912 Portage Lakes Drive, Akron, OH 44319; or call (330) 644-2293.

DISTRICT FOUR

Wayne National Forest

Public hunting is generally allowed throughout Wayne National Forest. There are remote, walk-in hunting areas, as well as easily accessible roads. All Ohio hunting laws and licensing regulations apply, and hunting is not permitted within designated boundaries, such as campgrounds and picnic areas. Private land is interspersed within the forest, so it is necessary to keep a lookout for signs posting the private and public sections. Designated ATV trails exist in the forest, along with an ATV Trail Host program to assist visitors.

Zaleski State Forest

South of Logan on state Route 328, Zaleski State Forest is the second largest forest in the state system. Although much of the forest is closed to hunting, there is a 1,100-acre grouse management area bounded by township roads 5 and 15. The Atkinson Ridge Hunter's Camp is high atop this area, providing hunters with latrines, picnic tables, and fire rings. Each campsite may accommodate up to 10 hunters.

The camp opens one day before the opening of squirrel season and closes one day after the end of grouse season.

The camp reopens in spring 14 days before the first day of turkey season and closes again one day after the season ends. There is no waste removal available at the camp, so visitors must plan to pack their trash out with them.

Hunters who prefer to rent rooms or cabins can find lodging in Athens, a university town due east of the forest, or in the Hocking Hills area to the northwest. For additional information, contact P.O. Box 330, State Route 278, Zaleski, OH 45698-0330, or call (740) 596-5781.

Tar Hollow Wildlife Area

Tar Hollow, also within Wayne National Forest, is the third largest forest in the state forest system. It is northeast of Chillicothe on state Route 180, then south on state Route 327. Some 1,700 acres in the Coey Hollow area in the extreme northwest section of the forest have been set aside for grouse habitat management.

As with all Ohio grouse management areas, there are areas of brushy undergrowth and small trees bordered by grasslands and forest. The campground in Tar Hollow is a primitive horse camp, but there is plenty of lodging in the Chillicothe area.

For more information, contact the Scioto Trail State Forest office, 2731 Stoney Creek Road, Chillicothe, OH 45601; or call (740) 663-2538.

Scioto Trail State Forest

Scioto Trail State Forest is in Wayne National Forest south of Chillicothe on state Route 372 off U.S. Route 23. Wild game populations include deer, wild turkeys, squirrels and grouse. This is typical rugged southern Ohio terrain, so the birds will be well hidden in the dense undergrowth.

The 250-acre Scioto Trail State Park consists of two areas in the middle of the state forest. The park has a campground and two primitive camping areas.

Additional lodging is readily available in the Chillicothe area. More information may be obtained by writing 2731 Stoney Creek Road, Chillicothe, Ohio 45601, or by calling (740) 663-2538.

Dean State Forest

Dean State Forest is in the hill country of Ohio's most south-central region, south of Oak Hill on state Route 93 in Lawrence County. Campsites are available, and a variety of lodging options may be found to the south in Ironton, or just across the Ohio River in Ashland, Kentucky.

A powerful ice storm in 2003 caused extensive damage to trees in the area, which has resulted in clear-cutting and the subsequent creation of some excellent grouse habitat.

For additional information, contact the forest office at 149 Dean Forest Road, Pedro, OH 45659-9740, or call (740) 532-7228.

Ironton Forest Wildlife Area

The Ironton Forest Wildlife Area is north of the Ohio River along U.S. Route 23 and is easily accessed from Blackfork-Firebrick and Brady Fork roads.

This 4,100-acre wildlife area, home to some of the oldest and most diverse forest in the country, is open to hunting and fishing. Approximately 25 percent of this area is reclaimed strip mine land, with the remainder mostly forested, ranging in age from 1 to 100 years. Re-growth areas and young forest provide fine grouse habitat. The undergrowth can be dense, so hunters with dogs will find great shooting here.

Lodging is available in Ironton. Oak Hill Campground and Iron Ridge Campground are at the nearby Lake Vesuvius Recreation Area. Water, garbage containers, and restrooms are available at both campgrounds.

Additional information may be obtained from the ODOW's Wildlife District Four office, 360 East State Street, Athens, OH 45701-1895; or call (740) 589-9930.

Monroe Lake Wildlife Area

Monroe Lake Wildlife Area is five miles north of Woodsfield on state Route 800. The terrain is rolling and rugged, with 36 percent of its 1,333 acres covered by woodland. Of this, 45 percent is in pole-sized timber.

Mowing of brush lands and maintenance of open fields has improved habitat for several species, including grouse. Latrines and wells are available at boat launching areas.

Lodging is available in Woodsfield, and there are several campgrounds in the area.

For additional information, contact the Area Manager, Monroe Lake Wildlife Area, 50767 State Route 800, Jerusalem, OH 43747; or call (740) 472-0245. Also, try the Wildlife District Four Office, 360 East State Street, Athens, Ohio 45701; or call (740) 594-2211.

Shawnee State Forest

Southeast of Portsmouth along U.S. Route 52, Shawnee is the largest of Ohio's state forests, with over 60,000 acres. A

n 8,000-acre wilderness area and Shawnee State Park are contained within the forest.

Land management in Shawnee State Forest includes clear-cutting, creating favorable conditions for grouse.

The forest sustained damage during a severe ice storm in 2003, requiring expanded timber cutting. Check with the forester's office for maps and details on which areas were affected by the storm.

Also, in May 2009, an alleged arsonist-set fire burned some 3,000 acres of Shawnee SF. These areas should offer prime hunting for years to come as the forest undergrowth regenerates.

Shawnee State Park offers a 50-room, handicapped-accessible lodge, 25 housekeeping cabins, and a Class A campground.

More information may be obtained by writing the Shawnee SF office at 13291 U.S. 52, West Portsmouth, OH 45663-8906; or call (740) 858-6685.

Brush Creek Wildlife Area

Brush Creek Wildlife Area is in the northwest corner of Scioto County near the intersection of state routes 73 and 772. The forest comprises over 12,000 acres of hardwood growth on steep hillsides, deep hollows and narrow ridgetops.

Timber cutting conducted in 2001 was planned specifically to enhance grouse habitat. A total of 180 acres of clearcuts on 17 separate plots are now in the brushy undergrowth and pole-sized timber stage that grouse love.

Lodging is available in Portsmouth or at nearby Shawnee State Park. For additional information, contact the Shawnee State Forest office, 13291 U.S. 52, West Portsmouth, Ohio 45663-8906; or call (740) 858-6685.

More information on hunting in eastern Ohio is available from the Ohio Division of Wildlife's headquarters, 2045 Morse Road, Building. G, Columbus, OH 43229-6693; or call (614) 265-6300.

Topographic maps for all of the wildlife areas above are available on the ODNR's Division of Wildlife Web site at www.wildohio.com.

The Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism can provide more information on lodging and dining in Ohio. Contact the agency at P.O. Box 1001, Columbus, OH 43216-1001. Call (800) BUCKEYE or try the agency's Web site at www.discoverohio.com.

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