Excellent upland gunning awaits adventurous grouse hunters on these well-managed Empire State public forests. (November 2007)
Photo by Bob Fala.
The picture-perfect grouse hunt always seems to include balmy October afternoons, an English setter on point and fall foliage in full color. But for easier shots, November's nippy mornings offer better odds, along with more comfortable temperatures for hunters and dogs alike.
At this time of year, grouse shift to heavier cover -- conifers and mature hardwoods adjacent to brushy tangles and pole-stage hardwoods -- while groves of aspen, birch and alders become their preferred feeding areas.
Hunters should have a dozen favorite areas in mind because a typical day's hunt normally requires hit-and-run tactics that include several destinations.
As New York's landscape has changed to favor turkeys, the search for productive grouse habitat has become an annual treasure hunt. One of the best approaches to locating grouse hotspots this season, especially for public hunting, is to check out the state forests in your area -- tracts of forested land totaling more than 850,000 acres, not including the Adirondack and Catskill park preserves.
WHY STATE FORESTS?
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation's management objectives for state forests are to provide multiple-use benefits and to maintain and improve environmental quality. This program includes wildlife management practices, and timber-cutting operations on these properties especially benefit to grouse.
These forests are widely scattered across the state and are easily accessible to most hunters. More specific information regarding their location, including maps, is available from the DEC's regional offices listed at the end of this article.
EMINENCE STATE FOREST
With more than 12,000 acres, Eminence is a complex of six parcels of forest southwest of Albany in Schoharie County. Stands of hardwoods here are carefully thinned to create wildlife habitat, and conifer plantations, so vital to grouse, are managed by a series of partial row cuttings. Steep hills characterize these properties, and internal roads and trails provide hunter access.
The Eminence forests lie in the towns of Fulton and Blenheim south of Cobleskill. From Interstate Route 88, take Exit 21 at Warnerville and proceed south on Route 4 to reach the east side of the northern tracts.
The southern tracts are accessible after the road changes to Route 31. Local roads provide interior access.
EAST BRANCH STATE FOREST
East Branch is in Delaware County, with 2,400 acres in two tracts. The Plattekill property lies east of Delhi. Take Route 28 to Route 6, continue easterly to Bovina, and then follow Mountain Brook Road for about a mile to the state land.
The Murphy Hill tract lies east of Downsville. Take the BSW Road 1 around an arm of Pepacton Reservoir to Murphy Hill Road, which leads to boundary markers.
This area is heavily forested, and grouse habitat hinges on logging operations and cleared areas along roads and trails.
CHERRY VALLEY STATE FOREST
Cherry Valley State Forest is a complex of seven properties offering nearly 7,400 acres of public hunting in Otsego County in Cherry Valley, Middlefield, Roseboom, Decatur and Westford. The properties are found primarily on steep ridges and hilltops east of Cooperstown.
Forest cover here is predominantly conifers and native hardwoods. Best access is from Route 20 and Route 166 south from the hamlet of Cherry Valley, using county routes and local roads to reach the various parcels.
RURAL GROVE STATE FOREST
The two parcels, totaling more than 2,000 acres, that comprise Rural Grove are reforestation areas in Montgomery County that include reclaimed farms abandoned decades ago. Pulpwood and timber harvesting have created grouse-friendly openings in the old conifer plantations and hardwood stands.
This forest is in the Mohawk Valley southwest of Amsterdam. Take Exit 29 from the Thruway (I-90), to Route 162 south to the hamlet of Rural Grove. Continue on Logtown Road (Route 110) to Shibley Road, which leads to the main tract.
Anderson Road (Route 106), also off Logtown Road, leads to the Yatesville Falls parcel.
MORGAN HILL STATE FOREST
Classified as an "upland forest" by the DEC, Morgan Hill's 5,560 acres range in elevation from 1,200 to 2,000 feet. Roughly half the property is covered with old coniferous plantations that get thinned on an irregular schedule, with the rest of the forest featuring hardwoods and hemlocks.
Nearly 14 miles of roads and five miles of marked foot trails provide hunter access.
Morgan Hill SF straddles the Onondaga-Courtland county line and is popular with Syracuse-area hunters. To reach the forest, take the Tully exit off I-81. Continue east on Route 80 for about six miles, and then turn south on Herlihy Road, which leads to the property. Shackham Road, between routes 80 and 91, also crosses the forest, as does Morgan Hill Road.
SHINDAGIN HOLLOW STATE FOREST
Typical of the Appalachian Plateau hill country, Shindagin Hollow's 5,266 acres lie east of Route 96B and south of Route 79 in southeast Tompkins County.
Hunters should have a dozen favorite areas in mind because a typical day's hunt normally requires hit-and- run tactics that include several destinations.
This forest was also created as a reforestation area many years ago with conifer plantations and natural seedings of hardwood species. It's a noted deer and turkey hotspot, with plenty of prime grouse habitat.
To reach Shindagin Hollow from Ithaca, proceed south on Route 79 to the crossroads communities of Bessemer, West Slaterville and Slaterville Springs, where local roads lead south to the state property.
Shindagin Hollow Road runs through the center of the forest. South Road, Brearley Hill Road, Honey Pot Road and Smith Road also provide access.
SUGAR HILL STATE FOREST
Sugar Hill's 9,085 acres were accumulated in small tracts over time, which explains its complicated boundary and out-parcels of private property. Currently, the forest is about two-thirds hardwoods and one-third conifer plantation.
A horse-snowmobile tr
ail is maintained for access. The Finger Lakes Trail, a hiking path, also crosses the property. The eastern tip of Sugar Hill nearly reaches the outskirts of Watkins Glen, with county routes 21 and 22 providing access. Several local roads include Evergreen Hill, Donovan Hill and Templar.
The southern border of Sugar Hill is close to Goundary Hill State Forest (at 2,112 acres) and Coon Hollow State Forest (2,456 acres). Both are nearly identical in terrain and habitat to Sugar Hill. These and other nearby tracts of state land deserve a good look by November grouse hunters.
NORTH HARMONY STATE FOREST
Located in the gently rolling hills of Chautauqua County west of Jamestown, North Harmony State Forest offers 2,561 acres of public hunting along with timber production and watershed protection. The forest is only a couple of long grouse flights away from Edward J. Whalen State Forest, which offers an additional 1,325 acres.
To reach these properties, take Exit 6 south from Route 17 to the hamlet of North Clymer, and then travel east on Route 474 to the southern tip of North Harmony. A small parking lot is about a mile west of Panama.
Local roads providing access to these properties include Wiltsie, Warner, Eggleston Hill, Stebbins, Elden and Wall Street.
BRASHER STATE FOREST
This remote state forest lies north of the Adirondacks in St. Lawrence County's flat valley terrain, north of Route 11 and east of the St. Regis River. Its boundaries are irregular and contorted, and there are many private in-holdings, but the forest boasts a total of 19,506 acres of state land --more than enough to keep any grouse hunter busy for a long time.
The land is generally poorly drained with some boggy areas. But there are also low ridges, called eskers, that provide upland cover.
Using county routes 55, 50 and 53, the hamlets of Brasher Falls and North Lawrence, both on Route 11, are good kick-off points to reach these properties.
Local access roads include Vice, McCarthy, Bush, Smith and Hurley.
General information about New York's state forest grouse hunting is available at www.dec.ny.gov.