Thursday, April 21, 2011
10:38 AM | Posted by Jon Ballard | Edit Post
I know. We're ALL expert ruffed grouse hunters. Right? Well, after many fruitless hunts, I can tell you that I've long since been humbled, and instead of the "I can't miss this season" arrogance, I started listening to the little tidbits that far more experienced grouse hunters have provided me—and which have all helped. And yes, I'll admit somewhat ruefully that I still get skunked -- but not QUITE as often!
First and foremost (no "duhhs" please!), if you're going to go into the woods, find an area that has a good grouse population. Many hunters don't do this. The weather is beautiful. The woods are beautiful. Grouse SHOULD be in those woods- -but often are not. Population cycles, forage, weather, predators - -they can all have a negative impact on whether a hunter will be successful in any given area.
What you should do is check out a hunting area you're interested in LOCALLY. Go to a sports shop, talk to people (most times you'll be in "small town America' and lots of folks will be hunters and willing to help- - so maybe a cup of joe at a local café will give you some much needed info), and then scout an area. Check with your state department of natural resources (DNR), or like agency, and find out about an area's grouse population – which can and will vary by year! If there, for instance was a fabulous grouse hunting season the past year, you can pretty well figure that the coming year, may be good, but not quite as good as it was last year- -or could be even far less than "good." One just doesn't know with grouse, so it's essential that you do all the checking you can before you hunt a particular area.
I've found that when you turkey hunt or deer hunt, or even set a trap line, you can get some "feel" for the grouse population in that area by listening for "drumming," or hearing a grouse move, or see them flying around. If you notice a lot of grouse, you can pretty-well be sure that it's a good "woods" to hunt. By the way, if you don't already know this, recognize that you're not able to "lure" a grouse "in" as you would for instance with a wild turkey. With grouse you have to go out and pursue.
A cardinal "no-no" and one of the biggest mistakes that wannabe successful grouse hunters make, is that when they walk in the woods, they walk down a path or an open area. You won't catch "flies with honey" doing that. Grouse may not be rocket scientists, but they're not THAT stupid. You need to get off the main trail, and get "down and dirty." It's that simple. And no, it's not as easy as walking a trail - -and if you spot someone on a trail because they don't want to "dirty" their custom tailored hunting outfit, and sporting a shiny new gold-etched shotgun, you just KNOW that the only grouse they're going to see is one on a dinner plate that they ordered in a fancy overpriced restaurant. There are brambles, and brush, and thickets, and insects, and ticks –but if you're dressed properly, and have the right footwear those things are easily dealt with. Get 10 maybe 15 yards off the trail and you'll see many times more birds than the "trail hugger" ever hoped for. Trust me on that one!
Once in the woods, don't start charging through the woods waiting for a bird to flush. Slow down, and sashay through the brush and obstacles. Every so often, STOP, and just stand there for a minute or two, and then if you've been standing for a bit, stomp your foot. Here's why that's successful. When a grouse is hidden in the brush (and they do have fabulous camouflage - -some of the best in nature), they'll just stay hidden as you walk by, and they'll watch you walk right past them. But, if you every-so-often stop, that'll make them very nervous. The longer you stand there, the more anxious they become, and then if you make a sudden movement and do a "stomp", they'll flush immediately, as they just can't stand it anymore.
When you flush a bird like that, and then shoot and get it, don't forget there'll probably be more than one in that immediate spot. Stop after your initial shot. The other grouse (there may be five or six more right there) who've been sitting there will get nervous and flush as well.
Then there's a tried-and-true "trick" that many grouse hunters never think of. Most hunters don't realize that grouse are NOT "upland game birds" in the true sense of that phrase. You're going to find lots of grouse in areas like around swamps and beaver ponds. Maybe they'll feel secure from predators on a dry knoll, with tufts of grass sticking up in a tag alder swamp. Don't think that grouse will always be up "high and dry." Far from it. Look at "high and dry" of course, but don't forget "low and wet." Grouse will appear far more protected from predators and hunters in what they feel are difficult areas to get around in - -like swamps and ponds. A good friend of mine, and super grouse hunting guide has told me any number of times that the most successful grouse hunters often find their quarry in swamp and pond areas rather than in the hardwoods.
So, I hope you'll "chew on these tidbits" for awhile and adopt them in your grouse hunting scenarios. I really do believe that if you "chew" on what I've suggested, you'll also soon be "chewing" on ruffed grouse at your dinner table.
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