By Paul Fuller
Is November the new October? With climate change, everything changes. Let me explain.
As I’ve written many times in this column, there are two ingredients that control a grouse life: food and shelter. Conifers are the main source of shelter for the ruffed grouse. And, that source of shelter remains fairly constant. Food is a different story.
My opinion on grouse food is that it is segmented into three categories. The first segment is green plant material. This segment goes from spring to early fall. It consists of hundreds of different plant life which grouse enjoy. Examples would be ferns, clover, wild strawberry leaves, wild raspberry leaves and much more. This segment is so plentiful that there is very little concentration of birds. Which means they are harder to find. For years, I’ve considered this segment of the grouse food chain to go through to mid-October. By mid October, heavy frost would kill off much of the green. The birds would then go to my segment two feeding concept which means more concentration of birds and easier to find.
But wait, with warmer weather, in the past few years, segment two hasn’t arrived by mid-October. Segment three is later and consists primarily of budding. Last year (2021), in Northern Maine, we found raspberry fruit still available on canes. Clover and wild strawberry leaves still green and plentiful. The segment one plentiful food table was still feeding the grouse. Which means the concentration of grouse gets delayed. Birds remain harder to locate.
Segment two, for me, has always been mid to late October. Segment two consists of mountain ash, high bush cranberries, rose hips, apples and nuts (acorn, hickory and beech). Rather than mid-October, segment two is now closer to and into November. That means birds are still concentrated and hard for the pointing dog to locate. Segment three, budding, is mid-winter which we won’t discuss in this column.
This all leads to the question: Is November the new October for grouse hunting? I believe there are many answers to this question. If you enjoy being in the woods on a beautiful fall day with leaves ablaze in color, I don’t believe climate changed has shifted that experience, yet, to November. If you want your pointing dog to enjoy more contact with birds, then the shift to early November may be productive. I have a good friend who hunted grouse with pointing dogs right up to Christmas in 2021.
Also, keep in mind the woods will be much more open in November which means seeing the bird in flight will make for better shooting conditions. Nothing tops the grouse hunting experience than approaching your pointing dog, with a solid point, flushing the grouse and connecting with an on-the-wing shot. It’s the true thrill of grouse hunting.
With warmer temperatures in October, here’s another change I’ve seen with grouse activity. We used to think that broods would disperse in late September. Old-time woodsman always said it happened with the first frost. Susan, my wife, and I were encountering broods right through October last year. I would rather have birds dispersed than in broods. There are more birds out and about for your dog to locate and point. Also, young dogs will often become overly excited with a brood flush and break point and chase. We enjoy watching our pointing dog remain steady.
There is a downside to November grouse hunting. Some of the sporting camps close the end of October. They don’t have the heating systems necessary for either the cabins or the main lodge. It may be hard to locate a sporting camp that is able to remain open into November. I think with warming temperatures, this will change in the near future.
And, even though November may be the new October for grouse hunting, it’s still November and a heavy snow storm in the North Country can be difficult to work with. Be prepared with shovels. And, it’s very possible you’ll encounter a large limb across a remote road. Always carry an axe or electric chain saw.
No matter how late you hunt this year, stay safe and enjoy your time afield.
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