My first hunt may have been a grouse hunt. In truth, it may not have been a hunt at all, just a walk with the shotgun and the dogs. If they flushed a bird, well then, the hunt was on.
That was likely in the Southern Tier before we moved to the North Country. Birds didn't seem to be everywhere there, but here, they're in the driveway and at just about every turn. If the habitat is there, it seems you'll flush a ruffie.
They've always been one of my favorite birds, from the seemingly relentless drumming to attract a mate in the spring to the broken wing walk of mom in the late spring to draw me away from her brood. There's nothing particularly striking about a ruffed grouse. Even the male, that usually sports the colorful plumage to attract a female, is pretty nondescript. We are very fortunate, however, here in the North Country to have a small population of spruce grouse – a much different bird.
You can find spruce grouse in small caches in the Adirondacks, but they are an endangered species and, of course, can't be hunted. If you see one, consider yourself very lucky, enjoy the experience and keep looking for the ruffed variety, which is fair game and a wary adversary.
In the Whiteface region, you'll likely find grouse in many areas with the right mix of young forest and open fields. Look for aspen stands and/or oak forests; both are grouse magnets. You'll find a lot of huntable land, especially in places like the Wilmington Wild Forest, where the southern deciduous forests meet the northern boreal lands.
A grouse can be a heart-starter, that's for sure. Even when I'm slowly walking through the woods with the shotgun at the ready, and the dogs working out in front of me, I'll inevitably be startled by the flush and the whoosh of grouse wings. They are incredibly patient and will wait until the last minute to flush, usually scaring both me and the dogs.
That makes it even harder to get the shot off. I'm not sure that I've ever got one. Pheasants are a little bit easier, given the usual wide-open spaces, but grouse can be found in tighter quarters and will most likely flush away from you, dodging trees and brush as they go.
While hunting pheasants, we'll occasionally put up a grouse. During one outing, we were in the particularly thick stuff. The pheasants will sit tight in there, but truth be told, you could just as easily put up a grouse or a woodcock for that matter. On this day, it was my shot and a grouse exploded from practically under my feet. Somewhat ready, I swung the bird which was, of course, flying away, making a break for the alders at the edge of the swamp. The shotgun cracked and the bird kept going, prompting a look from our then best hunting Labrador Ben.
"What the heck was that?" he was saying. I'm not sure if he meant the bird or the attempt at bringing it down.
Shaking my head, I just reminded him, "hey, this isn't a grouse hunt, you know."
But you can target these cardiac kids... just be ready for just about anything.