Monday, October 14, 2013


It’s a new season, and with still so many questions to answer. The spring and summer have been wet, not with an abundance of rain but frequent. How did the broods survive?
Young of the year and still rather dumb.
We went up to grouse country the beginning of September, having missed our usual summer visits. The dogs found a grouse here and there, and then the last day before we left they hit pay dirt, busting a covey of maybe a dozen.  That wasn’t enough evidence though to form a solid opinion.
On October first, a rather warm opening day, we found a scattering of grouse, maybe eight or ten, all skittish as the devil, each of them disappearing into the bright autumn foliage in the blink of an eye. One lone woodcock offered the only shot fired, and that was a miss that I still can’t believe. Yet I still didn’t dare announce an opinion on how the season would be.
Last season seemed to be the best of my lifetime, yet come wintertime, when I tallied up all the numbers and compared them to previous years, it wasn’t all that different. If you added in woodcock the numbers were impressive, but grouse alone was only slightly better than average.
The reports from upcountry are good, not spectacular, but good. We’ll have to wait and see. By the time we get back up there the leaves will be off and the dogs are ready.

So I may be able to invite friends over for a grouse dinner, but I’m not sure yet just how many.
Grouse country

Starting Cold

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from someone wanting to know where to locate good grouse cover. They had recently acquired a German shorthair pointer and thought grouse hunting sounded like fun. That certainly sounded like a backward way to come at the sport. On the plus side, they had joined local chapters of the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association and Ruffed Grouse Society, both excellent organizations.
Typical old cutting in the Northeast.
There probably is no better way to start than joining the Ruffed Grouse Society and a hunting dog group. At least then you will meet likeminded people who are bound to share some of their bird hunting knowledge. Whether you can get them to open up and share their favorite coverts may be another matter though. Grouse coverts are hard earned and shared sparingly.
State fish and game departments usually have experts that can point you in the right direction. When you are up in bird country, if you should happen upon any fishermen, hikers, and loggers, it doesn’t hurt to ask if they’ve seen any grouse. Most aren’t bird hunters and will gladly share what they know. And it doesn’t hurt to talk to sales people in local sporting goods stores, although dyed in wood grouse hunters aren’t all that common and salespeople are…well, salespeople, and likely to tell you what they think you want to hear.
The nearby softwoods provide shelter.
Other than that, I would pick a part of the country where there is still an abundance of timber harvesting and study it on Google Earth. Logging roads and activity such as clear cuts show up readily. Soft woods are easy to see, which provide shelter. An hour spent studying the images on Google Earth and the topographical maps of the area can save you days of walking.
The next step is to go to the locations that you’ve picked and to start walking. You are looking for shelter for the birds and a food source. Remember that available food changes with the seasons and what you see in the summer may not be there in the fall. A nearby stream is a plus. Logging roads can provide grit for the birds. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to find a drumming log. Maybe you’ll even bust a large covey of grouse.

And then plan to come back in the fall with your dog. If you’ve done your homework and hit pay dirt, you’ve found your first grouse covert. It is up to you whether you want to share it or not.