By Paul Fuller
Late season grouse hunting can be very productive. Although October provides us with the beauty of fall, it’s not necessarily the best time to hunt grouse. If the ground is fairly snow free, November can be an exceptional time to pursue the “King”.
What makes November an ideal time to hunt the ruffed grouse? There are a few reasons to be in the woods in November. First, the leaves are all gone which makes shooting much easier. In early October, you’ll be more likely to hear a grouse flush than actually see a grouse. In November, you’ll have a much better target. Of course, the smart ruffed grouse will still play their game of flushing with cover between you and the bird, however, your chances of a clean shot at a departing bird are better in November.
Another reason for hunting in November is the food tray is much smaller than October. In October, there is still a great deal of green remaining. Grouse will eat hundreds of different green plants which are found throughout the forest floor. Freezing temperatures will slowly eliminate the green plants as a food source. This process forces the birds to congregate more in areas that still have food. When hunting in October, you should be watching for grouse food that will be available during late season.
Late Season Food
Examples of late season food are high bush cranberries, mountain ash, grapes, nuts (acorn, hickory and beech), rose hips and apples. And of course, the food that gives all winter long…the buds of the aspen, black cherry and apple trees. Every late season hunter has seen birds eating buds in these trees. Often, you’ll see as many as a dozen birds in one tree.
For your author, the most exciting part of hunting upland birds is the dog work. Nothing can give a hunter more pride than walking up on a dog on point, flushing the bird and connecting with an on-the-wing shot. That’s the perfect scenario that we all hope for. However, once the birds have gone to the trees to “bud”, that scenario becomes more difficult. For this type of hunting, I have friends who switch from pointing dogs to flushing dogs. Flushing dogs will stand below the tree and bark at the birds until they fly. The hunter then has a shot at a flying bird. Snow also creates the same situation. The birds are in the trees.
Food and security are the two key ingredients for locating birds. For late season hunting, the woods are much more open than in October. That means the grouse are susceptible to predation by hawks and owls. The lack of protective cover is a worry for the grouse. This means they’ll spend as little time feeding as necessary. The availability of high nutrition food sources help with this. If the food source is of high value, they spend less time in the open. In October, when cover is thick, we often find grouse just lazily walking through the woods. That won’t happen in November. When not eating, the grouse quickly return to cover. Cover is most often to be in a thick stand of conifer trees. You can walk within a few feet of the birds and they’ll stay tight in those conifers. A dog with a good nose will scent those birds and give you a heads up that they’re there. Rattle the branches a few times and the birds will take flight. Have a hunting partner on the other side of the conifer stand at the most likely exit path of the birds.
Late season bird hunting means a few changes from the warm October temperatures. Dress for colder weather and make sure your dog doesn’t get cold. And, keep listening to weather reports. You don’t want to get caught in a snow storm in the back woods. Good luck and have fun.
Paul and Susan, his wife, host the Bird Dogs Afield TV show. Contact: [email protected].
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