New York's public-hunting areas offer some of the best fall grouse hunting in the Northeast. Here's a sampling of state-managed hotspots where good shooting is the order of the day! (Nov 2006)
On my office bookshelf, I have a copy of Frank Woolner's now-classic book, Grouse and Grouse Hunting.
Even as a young hunter, I enjoyed Woolner's work because he wrote in a style that was easy to understand, and his enthusiasm for the sport of grouse hunting came through on every page. Although the book was first published nearly four decades ago, his words are timeless.
"The partridge hunter is all-American, and he is a true perfectionist," Woolner writes. "He seeks a game bird that has been called the greatest simply because it is completely wild and very difficult to kill with any degree of consistency."
The author is right, of course. To have a "grouse," "pat," "partridge," "pa'tridge" or whatever you choose to call it flush suddenly from thick cover on a crisp fall morning is something few hunters can forget.
I'll go a step further: The only thing to compete with that adrenalin rush is getting an accurate bead on the bird as it twists and turns through autumn cover -- and then pulling the trigger and seeing it tumble to the ground. That, I have no doubt, is one reason why this bird is so beloved by New York hunters.
According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, some 75,000 upland enthusiasts manage to harvest about 225,000 grouse each year. That's an average of three birds per hunter! Considering that the daily bag limit is four birds per day statewide, it's easy to understand why Woolner's words hold as true today as they did 40 years ago.
Grouse are widely distributed throughout the Empire State. Some may be found in mature forests, but according to the DEC, the greatest population densities occur in our younger forests, especially in areas managed specifically for upland game and that offer new growth and varied habitats.
Much of that important special habitat work has been conducted on wildlife management areas and state forestlands, which offer some of the best grouse hunting opportunities in the state.
ADIRONDACK FOREST PRESERVE
Containing 6 million acres, including more than 2.6 million acres owned and managed by the state, the Adirondack Forest Preserve ranks as one of the largest public hunting areas in the United States. Except for developed areas such as campgrounds and picnic areas, practically all of it is available to the grouse hunter.
Grouse are found throughout the preserve, and bird hunting has always been popular here -- partly because the preserve is so large it allows hunters to get away from the competition, even near settled areas. And it offers a variety of hunting experiences.
Hunters can use over 2,000 miles of trails and miles of forest roads to access old homesteads and other areas of prime grouse habitat. Some of these areas are relatively easy to find, while others will take some exploring, but that is one of the everlasting attractions of the preserve.
For the more adventurous bird hunter who really wants to get away from it all, there are 16 designated wilderness areas covering 1 million acres where motor-vehicle access is restricted. There are also over 1 million acres of wild forests where limited access by motorized vehicles is allowed, and two dozen primitive areas covering 51,000 acres that offer prime hunting opportunities, but easier access.
For more information on hunting in the preserve, contact the DEC's Region 5 office at (518) 8976-1291, or the Region 6 office at (315) 265-3090.
TUG HILL WMA
About 23 miles southeast of Watertown and 11 miles southwest of Lowville in the western portion of Lewis County, the Tug Hill Wildlife Management Area covers 5,100 acres on the Tug Hill Plateau. From Lowville, the area can be reached from Route 177, turning south at Bellwood and traveling to Parkers. From there, direct access is provided by a seven-mile truck trail system. Numerous areas may be reached on foot by walking logging roads.
Much of the wildlife area -- about 3,200 acres -- is covered by upland brush and hardwood forests. The rest of the parcel consists of spruce and fir and a 65-acre impoundment.
Of most importance to grouse hunters are the upland and hardwood areas. The hardwood stands are managed primarily for commercial timber harvesting, which leaves the forest in various stages of succession. This creates vital habitat for game species, including grouse. Beavers have also created wetland habitat along some of the creeks, and birds are often found along the edges.
For more information on Tug Hill WMA, contact the DEC's Region 6 office in Watertown at (315) 785-2261. Lodging and other facilities will be found in Lowville. For details, contact the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce at (315) 376-2213, or visit www.lewiscountychamber.org.
BEARTOWN STATE FOREST
Located east of Carthage in Lewis County, Beartown State Forest is another prime upstate location for grouse. Although popular with local hunters and much smaller in size than the Adirondack Preserve, its more than 7,200 acres of varied habitat offer plenty of room to explore and hunt.
Much of the area is formed by shallow bedrock covered with poor soil. Rocky outcroppings are common. Because of the poor soil, the tree cover consists primarily of gray birch, scrub white pine and red maple. There is also a fair amount of aspen that provides good habitat for grouse, with patches of wild brambles and other berries.
Access to the forest is also easy. Several gravel roads including Texas, Old State, Beartown, Toth, Cotton, Town and Youngs Mills provide access. The DEC's Aspen Hollow Road offers some prime grouse cover, connecting Texas Road with Old State Road to the south.
A number of utility transportation corridors run through the forest, and the cover along their edges typically holds birds.
To find the forest, take Jefferson County Route 42 north out of Carthage for about one mile to the Rodgers Crossing Road. Continue about one-half mile to Texas Road. Turn right and proceed another three miles.
You can obtain more information on the forest from the DEC's Region 6 office.
For information on lodging and other services in the area, contact the Carthage Area Chamber of Commerce at (315) 493-3590, or go to www.carthagency.com. Hunting supplies may be obtained at Ferari's Archery and Hunting
Supplies on Route 42. The telephone number there is (315) 493-2295.
LEWIS PRESERVE WMA
On the east side of the Adirondack Preserve, the Lewis Preserve WMA lies in the town of Altona, in Clinton County. Route 190 travels from Plattsburgh to Altona. The area is east of Alder Bend Road between Terrien Road on the north and Jerusalem Road on the south. A 2.8-mile hiking trail traverses the area between these two roads, and there are parking lots of both ends. Motorized vehicles are prohibited.
Lewis WMA covers 1,356 acres. What makes it such good grouse country is that it's composed primarily of upland terrain and habitat, along with a few wetlands and beaver flowages. There are several fields along Jerusalem Road and on the north end of the WMA. The southern portion of the area is largely second-growth forest consisting of aspen, birch, spruce and fir. Patches of yellow birch, maple, white ash, beech and cedar may be found along the stream corridors.
The northern portion of the area is predominantly overgrown farmlands, mostly old pastures now containing aspen, white birch and apple trees that the DEC maintains to encourage fruit production for wildlife.
For more information on the area, contact the DEC's Region 5 office at (518) 897-1291. Plattsburgh is the biggest town in the area and offers lodging options and services.
For more information, contact the Plattsburgh Chamber of Commerce at (518) 563-1000, or visit them at www.northcountrychamber.com.
WILLOWEMOC WILD FOREST
Since its creation in 1885, the Catskill Park has grown from 34,000 acres to nearly 300,000 acres in a patchwork of public and private land sprawling over four counties. The area boasts myriad meadows, old farmsteads and a mixture of hardwood and softwood forests blanketing hilly and mountainous terrain.
Hundreds of miles of abandoned woods roads and trails provide access some of the finest grouse cover in southern New York.
One place worth a close look is the Willowemoc Wild Forest in northern Sullivan County in the towns of Neversink and Rockland, with small portions in the Ulster County towns of Denning and Hardenburg.
The forest covers nearly 15,000 acres of generally hilly terrain, rising to about 1,000 feet in elevation. The closest town for amenities, Livingston Manor, lies about nine miles to the southwest.
Hunting is allowed throughout the forest, except for the area around Mongaup Pond Campground, the Catskill Fish Hatchery, the DeBruce Environmental Education Camp and a few other posted areas.
There is plenty of room to hunt. The forest offers over 40 miles of recreational trails, most originating from old logging roads. There are also over 30 miles of snowmobile trails. All are prime spots to hunt for early-morning birds. Most of the trails also lead to other prime grouse cover, away from high-traffic areas.
For more information on the forest, contact the DEC's Region 3 office at (845) 256-3000. Specific hunting information within the forest may be obtained by calling (845) 256-3098.
For lodging, restaurants and other amenities, contact the Livingston Manor Chamber of Commerce at (845) 439-4859, or visit its Web site at www.livingstonmanor.org.
RATTLESNAKE HILL WMA
The western region of the state has some good grouse habitat as well as plenty of public hunting grounds. In the rolling hill country of the southern tier about 45 miles south of Rochester, three areas combine to offer more than 7,600 acres of prime upland cover.
The largest of the group is Rattlesnake Hill WMA, covering 5,100 acres in southern Livingston County and northeast Allegany County. This is primarily an upland tract offering a mixture of mature woodlands, some overgrown fields and patches of conifer plantations. Old apple orchards and open meadows complete the mix.
The area is easily reached from Interstate Route 390 and Danville, using Route 436 and then Route 9. It can also be reached from Dalton using Route 70. Several roads cross the management area, including Ebert and the Dannack Hill roads, and there are several barricaded access roads, closed to unauthorized mechanical vehicles.
Adjacent to the wildlife management area in its southeast corner, Ossian State Forest offers an additional 1,300 acres of grouse country. To the east, Canaseraga State Forest covers 1,287 acres. Although neither area is intensively managed for wildlife, occasional timber harvesting promotes new growth and provides grouse with ample fall cover.
Lodging and other services may be found in Dansville. For information, contact the Dansville Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-949-0174, or visit the agency's Web site at www.dansvilleny.net.
HIGH TOR WMA
At the south end of Canandaigua Lake, near the town of Naples in Ontario and Yates counties, High Tor WMA covers 6,100 acres with steep, wooded hillsides, deep gullies and creek bottoms, exposed cliffs and marshlands.
The area consists of three separate blocks with a mixture of overgrown fields and abandoned homesteads. All three blocks are easily accessible from the village of Naples, using local roads, some of which feature small parking areas.
Grouse are found on all three parcels, but the 3,400 acres east of the village are the most important. Primarily wooded terrain, it is not only the largest parcel, but has the most diverse habitat and generally holds a good population of grouse.
This is primarily steep, wooded terrain intersected by maintenance trails that you can walk as foot access routes to the more remote locations of the area.
The marshy portion of the wildlife area, covering 1,700 acres, is at the south end of the lake between routes 21 and 245. This area also holds birds, but hunters working the 1,000 acres due east of that tract, known as South Hill, generally fare much better.
The parcel features steep, wooded hillsides broken by some overgrown fields. It can be quite productive, especially on frosty autumn mornings.
Lodging and other services are available in Naples.
For more information, contact the Finger Lakes Visitor's Connection at (585) 394-3915 or 1-877-FUN-IN-NY, or visit the agency's Web site at www.visitfingerlakes.com.
For additional hunting information, contact the DEC Region 8 office.
PARTRIDGE RUN WMA
In the western Albany County town of Berne north of Rensselaerville, Partridge Run WMA covers 4,594 acres of the flat to rolling terrain that's typical of the area. To get there from Rensselaerville, take state Route 85 north one mile, turn left onto county Route 6 and then proceed three miles to a parking lot.
Much of the area is abandoned stone-fence farmland with old fields and meadows that give way to stands of oak and conifer on the hillsides. The DEC manages the area specifically for grouse and other species, and there is a good mix of ground cover in various stages of growth.
The area is popular with hunters from Albany and Schenectady because of its size and because grouse densities are typically quite high. Woodcock are also well represented during fall flights.
Partridge Run WMA is part of the Helderberg Bird Conservation Area (BCA) that includes four state-owned parcels of property that include the Margaret Burke WMA, Cole State Forest and Partridge State Forest. In all, the BCA covers a total of 6,176 acres. The recent designation is designed to safeguard local bird populations and protect critical habitat.
For more information on this area, contact the DEC's Region 4 office at (518) 357-2070.
FINGER LAKE NATIONAL FOREST
On a ridge between Seneca and Cayuga Lakes in southern Seneca and northern Schuyler counties, New York's only national forest offers the grouse hunter over 16,000 acres of upland hardwoods, fields and scrub habitat. The forest consists of several segregated parcels separated by private land and farms.
Maps and a recreational guide are available by contacting the forest supervisor's office at (802) 747-6700. Maps are also available online at www.fs.fed.us/r9/gmfl.
Access is from I-90, I-81 and state Route 17.
Grouse may be found throughout the forest, but the edge areas and woodlands will generally produce the most birds. Much of the old farmland now reverting to forests should not be overlooked. In general, you'll find more edge cover on the northern parcels in Seneca County, while the southern lots in Schuyler County are more heavily forested.
Don't overlook the wooded gullies and hillsides. There's plenty of habitat for birds here, so take your pick
For information on lodging and services in the area, contact the Schuyler County Chamber of Commerce in Watkins Glen at 1-800-607-4552, or visit the chamber's Web site at www.SchuylerNY.com.