Grouse. Ruffed grouse, to be precise. In Maine, pa’tridge or “biddies,” to be colloquial.
Can you think of another game species in the Northeast that has earned such a sterling reputation for formidability as a prey, or is known by so many other descriptive nicknames?
Outdoor writer and upland guide John Floyd likens the “thunder chicken” to a jet fighter, which, when flushed from a thornberry thicket, kicks in its afterburners and is out of sight before you know it.
Grouse fly at 900 feet per second. This means that when you shoulder that 20-gauge, the target is moving downrange at 70 feet per second. And studies show that it takes you .030 of a second from the time you see the bird until you can squeeze the trigger.
Surveys indicate that, when it comes to popularity with Maine hunters, the grouse has no peer, whether it’s in the pan or in the puckerbrush. No doubt it is the grouse’s incredible wariness, speed and unpredictability that make it such a popular and sought-after game bird. Jim Harrison, in his book “A Sporting Life,” writes of the grouse hunt: “Surely it is a dream world; the nearly thundering flush and the always difficult shot.
At this moment, even before the debut of the frosty mornings and cascade of bright fall colors, the grouse hunters are cleaning shotguns, running gundogs, scouting good bird covers and daydreaming of hunts to come.
The question repeats itself year after year: “What’s the grouse outlook?”
Maine’s state game bird biologist, Kelsey Sullivan, seems to be cautiously optimistic. “The grouse outlook for fall is relatively good,” says Sullivan. His boss, biologist Brad Allen, himself an avid upland hunter and gundog man, pretty much agrees. He says that he is “getting good grouse feedback north of Greenville, and is looking for “spotty success,” which is not unlike the last few years.
Al Cowperthwaite, executive director of North Maine Woods and always a good source, thinks it’ll be a good grouse season this year, and that the hunter turnout in the North Woods will be higher than usual.
Opening day for the grouse season is Sept 26. The season is a long one, closing on Dec. 31. Of the three-month grouse season, the first two weeks of October are by far the busiest.
As you prepare for opening day, here are a couple of tips perhaps worth taking with you into the grouse covers. These come from seasoned grouse hunters, who take a lot more birds than I do. 1) “Lead the bird. You can’t hit grouse if you don’t lead the bird.” 2) “Successful grouse shooting is far more dependent on woodcraft than shooting skill.” In other words, if you really understand grouse habits and habitat, you will be better able to maneuver for the best shot in the grouse woods.
Don’t forget to wear a piece of blaze orange and hunt safely, always knowing where the other guy is in the bird covers. Oh yes, be tender with that gundog, even when, in the thrill of the flush, it forgets all that it has been taught.