Ruffed grouse are never easy to hunt. Going afield with a partner or small group gives an advantage as does hunting with a dog. For those of use whose hunts tend to be solitary there are several things you can do to increase your chances of success.
- How You Carry Your Gun Matters Most of us gravitate toward the “two handed” or “ready” carry when hunting game like grouse that tend to flush quickly without warning. It’s not a bad choice and it allows for fast shifting of one’s body to get into position to shoot, such as when a bird flushes off to the side or behind. I generally find it slower than I like for getting on target. I’ve taken to mounting the toe of the stock in position at my shoulder and keeping the muzzle pointed down while I walk. That way all I have to do is raise the gun, flick off the safety and line up for the shot. This carry does result in fatigue, especially in the biceps and shoulders, so don’t expect to do it all day. And don’t walk through the woods with the gun fully mounted at your shoulder Elmer Fudd-style unless you know there is an excellent chance of flushing a bird in the next 10 yards or so.
- Keep Your Head and Eyes Up Grouse cover can be uneven and it’s tempting to drop your head and gaze to the ground and watch every step. But don’t do it! If you’re looking at the ground you aren’t going to be prepared when a bird flushes. You’ll be left looking frantically about trying to figure out where the bird is. Glance down with eyes only to momentarily assess the terrain. If the ground cover is bad enough to make you drop your head down, then stop walking while you plot your course. Don’t walk again until you are looking up.
- Stay Focused It’s easy to let your mind wander, especially on a crisp day when the woods are full of autumnal color. Problem is, while you’re enjoying a daydream session there could be a grouse close by ready to startle the snot out of you when it flushes. And it will startle you, to the point where you’ll be left fumbling, trying to shoulder you gun while trying to remember how to flick the safety off. Any time you find your mind wandering, be aware and call yourself back to the task at hand. Stop and take a break if need be, but don’t stroll the woods absentmindedly.
Hunting grouse by yourself without a dog is tough. For every 10 birds you flush you only see five and of those five you only have a chance to shoot at two or three at best. Give yourself every advantage you can!
I recently made a phone call to a landowner who has in the past given me permission to hunt his property. This is a critical piece of hunting etiquette, especially here in the northeast where public hunting is sometimes limited. Sadly, many hunters neglect to check in annually with there hunting connections.
Contacting landowners shows that you care about their property and are willing to respect their wishes. Skipping the pre–hunt phone call, email, etc. is an alluring option, but it’s wrong. Depending on the proximity of landowner to hunting property and the lay of the land you may be able to hunt without ever getting noticed. But what happens if you do get noticed? Property owners like to know who may be on their land and they don’t like being disrespected by people assuming that it’s okay to hunt. A simple phone call takes care of this, and, in the event that hunting permission is rescinded, that’s okay. If you skip the call, you’d still be hunting without permission, which is never a good thing.
When you make your call, be sure to ask if there are any stipulations. Landowners appreciate the courtesy and sometimes like to establish off limits spots or designate parking areas. Offer to help out with property maintenance. Posting boundaries, fixing fences, clearing access trails and similar chores are often appreciated.
Taking the time to contact landowners and confirming that you still have permission to hunt goes a long way to maintain good relations. Hunting seasons are opening across the country so if you haven’t made the call yet, be sure to do it soon.
Big ticket, expensive gear gets a lot of copy space but there are lots of little items that are simple, effective and make a big difference in how you hunt. Here are three things that I always have with me in one form or another:
- Zip Top Bags These are cheap, readily available and come in a number of sizes. They keep the contents dry and are flexible enough to get stuffed in a pocket. I have used them to store cameras, extra batteries and butane lighters. Small sizes are great for storing hunting license and carcass tags (especially when these are simply paper!) along with a pen. Along with those items you can add something to attach your carcass tags, which brings us to the next item.
- Rubber Bands These little devices are so versatile I can’t imagine getting along without them. They are great for attaching carcass tags, securing game calls while moving, bundling rifle cartridges so they don’t clink in your pocket and countless other applications. There isn’t much the right rubber band can’t do.
- Trash Bags kitchen sized bags work great for keeping things dry, and not just by locking moisture out. When carrying out heart, liver, etc. from a deer I always put them in a trash bag, then in my pack. Trash bags are more durable than plastic grocery bags, which often have holes in them before you even get them afield. The large size also accommodates clothing. Having a dry outer layer to put on can make a big difference. Trash bags are great for sitting on. That thin layer of plastic works miracles to keep your backside dry when the ground or your tree stand seat isn’t.