August 29, 2019
When it comes to bagging a ruffed grouse, there are no guarantees. They are as equally elusive as they are delicious.
This type of challenge draws many sportsmen. It’s a game bird that could fill your slow-cooker with only a handful of shotgun shells, but that’s a feat only an educated hunter can accomplish.
None of us are born so well informed on such a shifty bird, but we can absolutely learn and adapt new tactics to ensure successful future hunts. By better understanding ruffed grouse, the territory they call home, and applying creative strategies, we all can bag more grouse this next season.
When in pursuit of grouse, do not be discouraged if they are sparse or you are only seeing one at a time. Unlike quail, their close cousins, grouse do not congregate into coveys. In fact, ruffed grouse are very solitary in nature as adults. To combat this, you need to lace up your best boots and join the walking man’s game that is grouse hunting.
If you are like me, you always have multiple places in mind for grouse hunting to keep your options open, to ensure the areas are not over-hunted and to increase your odds through sheer numbers.
Although it might be daunting to try and tackle multiple, substantial hunting locations in one day, that is sometimes what is necessary to get your limit on less-than-peak cycle years.
With the soloist behavior of the ruffed grouse, you might need to push through an 8- or 10-mile march through the woods to encounter some. These feathery softballs are such loners that this type of commitment is, more often than not, the bare minimum required for success.
A successful day in the woods for me is often a leisurely 10- to 12-mile walk with a pit stop for a bag lunch, and potentially seeing one to four ruffed grouse. In reading this, you might think that is a terribly long ways to go, but it’s not a sprint, mind you. It’s an enjoyable 3 to 4 hours out in nature.
Sometimes, boots on the ground alone can make you a more successful hunter. Covering as much area as possible can increase your luck considerably even if sightings and drum counts are down in the summer months.
Just the Facts
- Ruffed Grouse now live in 38 of the 49 states on the North American continent.
- Ruffed Grouse are 1 of 10 grouse species native to North America.
- Once a young male grouse claims a drumming log, most will live the remainder of their life within 200 to 300 yards of that exact spot.
(Source: Ruffed Grouse Society)
NEW BEATS OLD
When it comes to hunting a lot of North American game, we all tend to lean on familiar hunting parcels we know like the back of our hand. Although this familiarity can be valuable for other animals like turkey and deer, it can actually hinder your odds when it comes to grouse.
Grouse tend to frequent growing and flourishing environments. These are the kind you can find in areas growing back resiliently from wildfires, regions that have been clearcut or parcels that have been ravaged by tornados or other natural disasters. As these areas rebound to their prior lush state, it affords a lot of sustenance for grouse such as green leaves, exploring insects and a multitude of wild fruits. As these areas explode with new growth and plant life, grouse will look to capitalize on the easy pickings for food.
Many hunters fall into the “familiarity trap” of always going to the same old place to hunt. It is convenient and predictable, so it will always be appealing. While it is not impossible to have a great hunt on your long-standing, favorite chunk of land, your odds are higher on the blossoming areas that are growing fresh and new.
Mature forests have a lot of deteriorating floor cover that shades out the growth and the food grouse look for. An older habitat can also have a denser canopy of leaves, which will shade out many food opportunities for grouse as well.
If you live in a populated area, a long, 2-hour drive is not always necessary to find a grouse limit either. Grouse have been known to take up residence fairly close to suburban and even urban areas as long as they have adequate cover and still maintain a feeling of safety and security.
Once you are out in the field barreling down trails and patches of woods, there are some things to keep in mind throughout your hunt. For one, understanding the mindset of a grouse once it has been discovered is very important. Ruffed grouse are very nervous and pensive birds once they understand a threat is nearby. If you are hunting without a dog, your patience can potentially be your biggest asset.
When a grouse is flushed because you stomped too close by on a trail and it lands within eyesight, or you see one on a log and it ducks into some bushes, your next best move is to watch and wait. Ruffed grouse become uneasy when they do not see you move. They sometimes will slowly walk out of cover into the open to try and locate you.
Another oddity is they may start bobbing their head up-and-down or side-to-side like a comical owl in attempts to relocate you. This becomes your second chance or mulligan at bagging a grouse you goofed up on.
I am in the out-group that does not own a bird dog, so I have applied this “watch and wait” tactic several times over the last couple years with great success.
Once, after flushing two young grouse together on the side of a trail with very tall grass, I applied this sage advice handed down to me from my father. I mentally noted where each grouse separately landed after flushing roughly 20 yards apart. I patiently waited for the first grouse to move. After 2 minutes, it stirred and I was in business… Bang! One bagged grouse. I turned my attention to the other grouse. After 5 minutes, the second grouse followed suit. Two for two.