High-country thickets are the best places to find Keystone State grouse this month. Here's a sampling of rugged hotspots to test your upland mettle! (November 2008).
For nearly 50 years now, the annual flushing rate for Pennsylvania's grouse--the measure for which grouse populations are determined--has averaged 1.46 flushes per hour.
The state's best year for flushing grouse was 1995, when hunters tallied 1.74 birds per hour. The lowest year in recent times was 2001, with a rate of 1.51. The 2006 grouse-flushing rate--the last year for which numbers were available--was the highest rate posted in five years.
At first glance, these numbers may seem dismal, but they are averages. Some grouse hunters have flushed four birds or more per hour--and that's not bad at all!
Typically, the Northwest and North Central regions harbor the highest populations of grouse, while the South Central and Southeast regions have the lowest. In all these regions, however, pockets of good grouse habitat will hold some birds.
TIOGA STATE FOREST
In North Central Pennsylvania, Tioga State Forest is a great place to hunt grouse. Its 164,975 acres give the birds plenty of room.
Most of the forest features high, wooded slopes where aspen and beech grow in profusion.
A major section worth investigating lies north of Ansonia and the western turn of Pine Creek. In this area of Shippen Township, the forest consists of a number of heavily wooded ridges, with the stream ravines of Asaph Run and Straight Run.
Actually, the best ridges are on the two branches of Asaph and Straight creeks, appropriately called Left and Right Asaph Runs and Left and Right Straight Run.
Upstream of where the branches connect, the cover is generally much higher and more heavily wooded.
Between the Asaph Run branches is Middle Ridge, and in the middle of the Straight Run branches is Broad Ridge. Each ridge forms a broad V that narrows as you near the juncture of the streams. This is helpful to know because if you get turned around while crashing through thick cover on rocky ground, you can work your way downhill and eventually come to the junction of the streams where there are also road connections.
Making your way up Right Asaph Road along Middle Ridge, you will eventually come to the northern border of the state forest in this area.
Utility cuts, winding their way over the tops of the ridge, offer a great way to get deeper into the backwoods where hunters will find more grouse.
Straight Run Road parallels Right Straight Run up to Baldwin Run Road. The path that might have been Left Straight Run Road is only a trail.
Canada Run Road and Spoor Hollow Road are also state forest roads surrounded by good grouse habitat.
In the same general area of these streams is Norris Brook west of the village of Niles Valley. The land to the north of Norris Brook and Bennett Road hosts a sizable chunk of the state forest with plenty of high peaks and deep ravines.
Bennett Road crosses a tiny finger of the parcel and hunters use it for access. This section of the forest is laced with trails and pipeline clearings where grouse may be found.
All of the habitat noted above lies northwest of Wellsboro along Route 287 through the villages of Ansonia, Asaph, Marsh Creek, Niles Valley and Middlebury Center.
ALLEGHENY NATIONAL FOREST
It's a rare season when either the North Central or Northwest regions do not lead the commonwealth in the number of grouse flushes. Even when the Northwest Region doesn't lead, it comes in a close second.
The main reason for this is Allegheny National Forest, with 513,000 acres open to grouse hunters. With so much land available, it's easy to find different grouse cover every day that's possibly unpressured.
One key to finding grouse is to look for early-successional habitat--land that's been timbered within the last 10 years and is slowly reaching the sapling stage.
There are miles of prime grouse habitat around the Kinzua Creek arm of the Allegheny Reservoir, specifically in Hamilton and Wetmore Townships. A good amount of early-successional land exists around Westline east of Route 219 and south of routes 59 and 321, and then around Route 321 as it dips southwest.
Good areas may also be found near Chapel Fork. To reach this part of the national forest, travel east from Kane on Route 6 to Route 219. Intersecting roads that lead to national forest trails are found at Tally Ho and Timbuck along Route 219 and from Westline.
From Kane, also try Route 321 north, which crosses the Kinzua Creek arm of the giant reservoir.
Route 321 turns back to the northeast, paralleling the North Fork of Chapel Fork.
For more information on the grouse-hunting opportunities on Allegheny National Forest, call (814) 723-5150, or for camping reservations, call 1-877-444-6777. Also check out the forest's Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r9/Allegheny. I-80 CURVE
Like boxers trading jabs, the northern areas of the state, including the"central northeast," often compete for the highest grouse-flushing rates.
In part of the Northeast Region, good grouse habitat is at a premium, but there are some sections where the birds have kept a firm footing.
One of the best sections is a string of state game lands, a state park and a portion of a state forest above and below the I-80 curve between Crescent Lake and slightly west of White Haven.
South of the interstate, SGL 149 is connected to Hickory Run State Park, which merges into SGL 129, which is connected to a part of Delaware State Forest and nearby to SGL 38.
Just above Interstate Route 80, near Crescent Lake and I-380, there's SGL 318; and along the Northeast Extension (Route 476), there is SGL 40.
In this area, the amount of public acreage open to hunting is impressive. Much of this land has the steep beech-covered ridges and deep glide-over ravines where grouse thrive.
Hickory Run State Park contains over 15,500 acres, most of them open to hunting. The rugged areas near Hicko
ry Run stream, close to Route 476, offer particularly good grouse habitat. A few years ago, severe wind and ice storms downed acres of trees along Route 476. Those downed trees left openings where grouse forage has taken hold. The same could be said for portions of SGL 40.
Grouse hunters should also look to a portion of the Delaware State Forest on the Monroe/Carbon county border west of Route 115. SGL 13
A massive game lands in the Northeast and North-central regions of the state, situated mostly in Sullivan County, is a hotspot for ruffed grouse. SGL 13 has nearly 50,000 acres spreading roughly from Route 487 in the east to Route 220 in the west. SFL 13 has ridges and ravines, major streams and tiny rivulets, some trails--and lots of grouse.
For prime habitat, but difficult hiking, look to the southern portions of SGL 13 around Jamison City, Elk Grove and Emmons.
West Branch Fishing Creek runs through this zone, and the ridges rise up near the stream valley.
Access is along Jamison City Road and its twisting connections out to Shingle Mill Road.
The amount of grouse habitat in the Southwest Region is negligible compared to the public acreage available, but good hunting may be found along Laurel Hill.
SGL 42 covers major portions of Laurel Hill above and below Route 271. PGC land along the top and down both sides of the convoluted mountain contains an impressive 14,600 acres. Portions of the game land are also connected to Laurel Ridge State Park with an additional 13,625 acres that are open to hunting.
Access is along Route 271 between Southmont and Oak Grove and along Route 30 between Jennerstown and Laughlintown.
Hunters interested in participating in the annual grouse survey should write the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Bureau of Wildlife Management, Attn: Grouse Cooperator Survey, 2001 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797.
For additional information on the Quaker State's state forests and state parks, contact the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in Harrisburg at (717) 787-2869, or log onto www.dcnr.state.pa.us.
For more information on state game lands, contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission in Harrisburg at (717) 787-4250. Or you can log onto www.pgc.state.pa.us.
For additional travel information, call 1-800-VISIT-PA.€‚€‚€‚