THE RUFFED GROUSE IS AFFECTIONATELY CALLED THE KING OF GAME BIRDS BY THOSE WHO ENJOY HUNTING THEM ON CRISP AUTUMN DAYS. AS THEIR NICKNAME HINTS, THE RUFFED GROUSE IS CHALLENGING PREY FOR NEW AND SEASONED HUNTERS ALIKE. THEY ARE SWIFT FLIERS, WARY, AND LEARN BY EXPERIENCE THE FINE ART OF AVOIDING PREDATORS OF ALL KINDS. BUT BY USING A FEW BASIC PRINCIPLES YOU CAN START OFF ON GOOD FOOTING, AND WITH ANY LUCK, BRING HOME A FEW RUFFS FOR THE TABLE.
Finding an area to hunt ruffed grouse is the first step and often the most challenging. For example, in northern Minnesota there is a fair bit of public land, but as you head south towards the Twin Cities, good grouse habitat with public access can be elusive. To locate productive grouse-hunting land, three great resources I recommend are online research, purchasing a plat book or downloading the OnX mapping app. Once you’ve selected promising land, either public or private for which you’ve been given permission to access, it’s time to narrow it down to the habitat most likely to hold grouse.
They are swift fliers, wary, and learn by experience the fine art of avoiding predators of all kinds.
In the northern Midwest, a good place to start is remote logging/walking trails near clear cuts with young aspen trees about the diameter of a broomstick. Ideally, this young growth would be mixed with wild berries, young alder, and perhaps spruce trees. These trails provide easy walking, and the birds love the young buds and berries that are close to the ground.
In the Pacific Northwest, grouse can be found in areas with similar cover, though the species of trees will differ. Often this type of cover is found in the riparian zone along streambeds. This is a general guide to “grousy” habitat, but the birds have the same needs for food and cover, regardless if they’re in Maine, Montana, Wisconsin or Washington.
Gear for a typical day hunting grouse should include: blaze orange vest and hat, water, compass, shotgun, size #6 or #7 shells in the appropriate gauge, durable pants and long-sleeve shirt, as well as sturdy waterproof boots. If ticks are a problem in your area, spraying your clothing, boots and socks with Permethrin is and excellent defense.
the birds have the same needs for food and cover, regardless if they’re in Maine, Montana, Wisconsin or Washington.
Though not strictly necessary for grouse hunting, I suggest hunting with a bird dog–they can make the hunt much more productive and enjoyable. Watching a well-bred hunting dog work birds is a sight to behold, and the fruits of their labor cannot be denied. Whether it’s a bold pointer raised and trained from a puppy to hunt grouse, or a seasoned lab with years of pheasant hunting experience, having a dog along with you is something I highly recommend.
At the end of the day, successfully hunting ruffed grouse is about learning their habitat preferences, and spending precious time in the woods. I recommend checking out the Ruffed Grouse Society’s website for more in-depth information regarding the king of game birds. To make your time in the woods even more enjoyable, don’t overlook the woodcock, which shares much of the same habitat as ruffed grouse. Autumn mushroom hunting also compliments grouse hunting nicely–it can lead you into great grouse cover, and help fill your plate with even more of the forest’s delectable treasures.