Ruffed Grouse Hunting Basics
Writing an article called Ruffed Grouse Hunting Basics is sort of like writing an article called Building An Atomic Bomb Basics. There is nothing basic about hunting ruffed grouse. Even veteran grouse hunters learn something new every time they are in the field. To make matters worse, the bird has a small head in comparison to the rest of it’s body. You would think they are stupid. But they have left many hunters scratching their heads and going home with empty game straps. The good news is grouse hunting strategy isn’t nuclear science. You can learn grouse hunting in an afternoon. But it will take a lifetime to master.
The best way to find birds is to find places most likely to hold birds. Contact your state upland bird biologist, or better yet a forestry ecologist. A forester can tell you what types of forest grouse are most likely to be found and where to find those spots. Grouse gravitate to young forest growth like aspens, tag alders, and thick brambles. They will also hold tight around thick conifers like pine and spruce, especially when temperatures plummet. One of the best locations to find ruffed grouse is along edges where mature forest meets meadow areas. Places that were clear cut three or four years ago are really good. Walking logging trails until you spot a bird in the open is a good tactic. Where you see one in the open, there are usually more in cover.
To Dog Or Not To Dog?
Many of my hunting friends would rather leave their gun at home than their dog. That is well and good. But having a poorly trained dog in your party while hunting grouse is likely to be more of a hindrance than a help. Having an expert level dog will definitely put more birds in the bag. Pointers can hold birds until you get to him. This leads to higher quality shots. But even a retriever can be used as a flusher provided he doesn’t range out too far. A flusher shouldn’t be more than 25 yards from the closest gun. If you decide to hunt without a dog, you will have to put more miles on your boots. Seasoned birds will hold cover almost until you step on them. The best tactic for hunting grouse without a dog is walking logging roads in the morning and evening. You’ll often hear birds drumming early in the season. Drumming sounds kind of like a miniature helicopter. Once you hear it, drumming is unmistakable.
Guns & Ammo
A light 12 gauge is my grouse gun of choice. But many hunters will opt for a 16 or 20 gauge. Ruffed grouse live in thick habitat. This is not the place for long barrels. A 26 inch barrel is plenty long and an improved cylinder will provide wide patterns for shooting at birds through dense cover. If you plan to hunt logging roads and more open cover, go with a modified choke. Number 7 or number 8 loads are good medicine for ruffed grouse.
One of grouse hunting’s greatest pleasures is it’s simplicity. There are no decoys or calls. Sturdy pants with chaps are highly recommended. Wear layers above the waste. Mornings in the grouse woods are usually cool, but this is a walking sport and you’ll be shedding layers in no time. A blaze orange game vest is nice for carrying shells and downed birds. About the only tools you would need are a choke tube wrench for in the field adjustments and a sharp knife for field dressing birds.