I am fairly certain whoever named the highest hand in poker the “Royal Flush” was an avid ruffed grouse hunter. Either that, or the person who designated the ruffed grouse the “King of Game Birds” was an avid poker aficionado… How else would you explain a pursuit with success measured by the number of “flushes” (a good amount of flushes are certainly good to have in poker) rather than the number of “shots” (not good if you want to win at poker) or “Kills?” After all, it is considered bad form to shoot your opponent.
All kidding aside, I firmly believe the only reason grouse hunting success is measured this way is that if you counted solely the shots or kills as success, too many people would quit and thereby decimate Ruffed Grouse Society banquets and fundraising events! Maybe that’s a good thing—The way it’s measured of course; not decimating the Ruffed Grouse Society.
I recently spent the week up north, which translates to ruffed grouse. Of course that is also da’ U.P where they are commonly referred to as partridge. As the leaves begin to turn the common question arises, “How many flushes did you put up?” This is most often immediately followed by, “Did you get any shots?” As someone who cut his teeth on Midwest pheasants as an introduction to upland hunting, grouse have always been a bit of a conundrum. Before I moved north as a newlywed, I had only seen a few and never shot at one. The first time I went out with an elderly friend and we flushed a bird, he asked why I didn’t shoot.
“I didn’t have a clear shot,” was my reply.
“Son, if you wait for a clear shot on a ruffed grouse, you’re never going to shoot…”
I have learned a great deal since then and have had what I would consider better-than-average success in putting together a few meals of partridge.
Here are some helpful tips I’ve learned the hard way.
- Get over your snooty attitude about shooting birds in or out of the trees. That is, if you want to eat more grouse. If you’re happy counting flushes and acting gentlemanly by trying to flush every bird flying into the trees for cover, be prepared for frustration. Grouse are fairly smart and love to flush with cover between them and danger.
- Get a dog—any dog. I have had the fortune to hunt with some fantastic setters and pointers in the grouse woods, but I don’t have the room or the desire to replace what I consider my much more versatile Labradors… YET! You can easily train any gunning-breed to hunt, flush and retrieve grouse. Just as in pheasant hunting, any dog will cover more ground than you, so your percentages of birds-in-bag will increase proportionately.
- Practice fast snap shooting. Unlike a close-flushing pheasant or decoying waterfowl where you have at least several seconds to mount, trap, and shoot your gun, with grouse, and if you are very lucky, you will have less than half of that, even with a dog.
- Hunt the cover. If you want to shoot—or at least shoot at—more grouse, you need to get off the path and into the cover. Grouse prefer to forage in overhead cover that protects them from predators and rarely flush down the lane.
- Which brings me to the final tip…Enjoy and celebrate both the day and your successes. Walking behind the dogs in the fall foliage can be exhilarating and refreshing. It is made even better by the addition of a few birds for the pot. While on my most recent trip, I experienced success more rare than a first-deal royal flush. I had a double flush on grouse (rare) that flew off close together (more rare) and I killed a clean double with two shots—the rarest feat of all in grouse hunting.
I drove straight to the gas station and bought $10 worth of Powerball tickets. Alas, my luck did not hold, but if you follow these tips, yours—at least in the grouse woods—will be better.
Do you have a favorite hunting dog? What are you feelings about shooting birds through light cover? Tell us your thoughts or experiences in the comment section.