Ruffed grouse give even experienced hunters and fine wingshots all the challenge they want when it comes to putting birds in the bag. I’ll tell you my stats just to give you an idea of what to expect. During the early weeks of the season, when foliage is still summer-thick, I catch a glimpse of about half the birds that flush. I manage to connect on about one out of every four attempts. When the leaves come down, unless a bird flushes wild, I catch a glimpse of nearly every bird and connect on about half of them. Hopefully, your numbers will be better than mine.
I’ve been out hunting a number of times with friends who have been much more familiar with hunting other upland game birds–pheasants, sharptailed grouse, prairie chickens, partridges, etc. No matter how much I warn them beforehand, their initial exasperating remark is something like, “How the devil are you supposed to kill a bird you hardly ever see?”
And hidden in that question is the key to connecting on ruffed grouse: Expect only a glimpse. If you happen to catch a full view of the bird as it zips across an opening or zooms across a logging trail, consider that a bonus. To connect on grouse, you shoot where they aren’t yet, not where they were.
Now, please don’t misunderstand. I would never condone shooting at sound only. But if you want to hit grouse with anything even approaching consistency, you will want to be mounting your shotgun or your hunting crossbow at the sound of every flush. If you wait until you see the bird, it is very often going to be too late. Most of the time all you are going to get are fleeting glimpses. Your goal is to put a swarm of 7-1/2 out in front of that glimpse. Ignore the trees, leaves, vines and brush. You only need a couple of pellets on target.
Hunting With a Dog
Hunting with a good dog will not only help you locate more grouse, but give you an edge when it comes to hitting grouse as well. The dog, whether pointer or flusher, will let you know when there is a grouse in the area. This will allow you to anticipate the flush. That may not sound like much of an edge, but trust me, that advance notice is huge.
If you hunt without a dog, get in the habit of playing the old stop-and-go game. When you are in good cover, stop every 15 to 20 steps and stand still for 10 seconds or so. Often, a bird that would’ve let you walk on by had you proceeded with a steady gait, becomes unnerved at the sudden silence and flushes.
And speaking of unnerved, if that blast of whirring grouse wings does not do something wonderful to your nervous system, well, beats me why you’re hunting in the first place!
I hope my tips will help you better your ruffed grouse hunting skills and this season will be the best one for you. Good luck!