Top 5 Grouse Hunting Tips
I grew up very spoiled. Not because of wealth or luxury, but because I happened to live in one of the country’s hot spots for ruffed grouse: Minnesota. I also happened to have a lot of public land just down the road from me, covered with aspen forests. As a result, I spent much of each fall exploring the woods and chasing these amazing birds. That passion carried forward into adulthood, and I still look forward to each fall with the same anticipation. In the hopes that you too will develop that interest, here are 5 tips for going grouse hunting yourself.
Locations/States for Grouse Hunting
Before you go grouse hunting, it helps to know where to go! There are several grouse species throughout the country, including ruffed grouse, spruce grouse, blue grouse (dusky and sooty), sharp-tailed grouse, and sage grouse. But this article focuses on ruffed grouse because they are the most numerous and widely distributed of them all.
Ruffed grouse occur across the northern half of the country, primarily throughout the Great Lakes states, New England, and Pacific Northwest. However, they also occur throughout the Appalachian Mountains down to Georgia and in the Rocky Mountains down to Wyoming. I’m obviously biased, but Minnesota is considered one of the best grouse hunting states due to the habitat and grouse productivity. But Wisconsin, Michigan, Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and New York all offer good opportunities.
Ruffed grouse can survive in many different habitat types, from spruce forests to old farmsteads, but they seem to be most productive in mixed aspen-birch forests. Some other habitats that are important to grouse throughout the country include alder and dogwood swamps, hazel and berry patches, old apple orchards, oak forests, and riparian corridors. In the fall, you will find them chowing down on mushrooms, fruits (e.g., raspberries, rose hips, hawthorn, dogwood, etc.), and nuts (e.g., oak acorns, hazel nuts, etc.).But what’s more important than the exact plant species is the forest structure. Like many other forest wildlife species, ruffed grouse thrive in young forest habitat. For example, grouse seem to prefer forests that were cut anywhere from 5 to 10 years prior. The dense regrowth, especially in aspen forests, provides a lot of security cover from aerial and ground predators. If this young regrowth is also located adjacent to some of the other habitat types above, there should be a good grouse population.
Grouse Hunting Gear
Luckily, grouse hunting takes very little hunting gear to get started. All things considered, you only need a shotgun, a pair of boots, some durable clothing, and blaze orange. There are few kinds of hunting that you can do with so little equipment. Since grouse hunting depends on walking a lot, investing in a good pair of boots is recommended, but you can get by without top of the line stuff too.
When it comes to shotgun choice, you have some flexibility. I started with a .410 as a kid, and shot many grouse that way. Now I use a 12 gauge and it works well too. But literally anything in between can be a good grouse gun, including a 28 gauge, 20 gauge, and 16 gauge. What kind of choke you have can make a big difference. A modified or improved cylinder choke is a good all-around choice to allow for up-close and far away shots.
If you’d like to read a more detailed discussion on the different shotgun gauges and their recommended uses, read the article below:
Grouse Hunting Techniques
As I mentioned above, grouse hunting means one thing: a lot of walking. If you can find the right habitats, all you typically need to do is spend some time exploring it. While a good hunting dog can really help you find and flush them, it is very possible to hunt them solo. That’s the way I’ve always done it!
Start by walking trails in the morning when grouse are sunning themselves and picking gravel for their crops. As the day wears on, move into the thick cover. The general rule for grouse hunting is that the thicker the cover, the better. That means you will occasionally have to bust through some thick, tangled, miserable vegetation to flush the birds.If you are in the appropriate location and walking through the right looking habitats, but aren’t flushing birds, they might be holding tight instead of flying. Try this. Occasionally stop suddenly and wait for 30 seconds or so. I’ve found that this unnerves the birds and causes them to flush so you can locate them and get a shot.
If you’ve only ever hunted birds that prefer open environments, you might be at a loss with grouse hunting. When you manage to flush a bird, you might have 2 to 3 seconds to locate and shoot it before it disappears behind the thick brush. This can throw people off their first few times, but there are ways around it.
First, you need to accept that to kill a grouse, you will need to pull the trigger. Sounds simple enough, right? But so many people (myself included) hesitate until it is too late. Many times, it’s because the grouse dodges behind some brush or a branch and you want to wait for an “open shot” that will likely never come. If a ruffed grouse flies behind some light cover, keep following it and take a shot…as long as you are being safe about it – don’t shoot through something if you can’t see your target at all. As soon as I started adopting the mindset to shoot more often and to not wait for perfect shots, I started bagging more birds. Plain and simple.
I hope you can use these tips to get out grouse hunting next season. Experiencing that close-range flush and pulling off a shot is such an addicting feeling, you will be hooked after your first time.
Image Credits: Ryan Lisson