Thursday, February 9th, 2023
Thursday, February 9th, 2023

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

By Gary Clancy

The season on ruffed grouse opens on Saturday, Sept. 14. No
matter where you hunt, up north or in the southeast, you can be
sure of one thing, the cover will be thick, thick, thick. In fact,
many hunters put off grouse hunting until October when hard frost,
fall rains, and wind have combined to knock down many of the leaves
on trees and underbrush.

There is no question that you will have a much better look at
your perspective target if you wait and hunt in October. But, if
you, like me, cannot wait that long, pay heed, I have some
suggestions that will help you put a few more grouse in the old
game pouch during the early weeks of the season.

When hunting pheasants, although I do not advise it, you can get
by with carrying your shotgun over your shoulder or dangling from
one hand at your side. A pheasant is lumbering on the flush
compared to the ruffed grouse. Then too, a pheasant more often than
not flushes in places where there is nothing but air between your
shotgun muzzle and the target.

Ruffed grouse do not. When hunting ruffed grouse I carry my
shotgun in the ready position at all times. This means either in
the standard port arms position, which is pistol grip in the right
hand and forearm in the other for right handed shooters, or when
fighting my way through tangles with my left hand, using a
one-handed grip where I secure the pistol grip with my right hand
while balancing the stock on my right hip. Either position is very

During those few occasions when I have grown lazy and let my
guard down, a ruffed grouse invariably flushes and leaves me
standing there like an oaf. How do they know?

Improved cylinder is the most choke constriction you should
consider for early season grouse. Skeet or true cylinder is even
better. This is hand-to-hand combat. We are talking
up-close-and-in-your-face action here.

Fifteen yards is a long shot. For this you want a pattern that
opens up as quickly as possible. Some hunters like 8s, others 71/2
shot. Personally, I’ve never noticed any difference; biting into
either size pellet is always a surprise!

It matters not the least to me if you use a 12 gauge, a 28 gauge
or anything in between. It does not matter to the birds either.
What does matter is weight. Anything over 61/2 pounds is just too
heavy when it comes to grouse hunting. Balance is critical, too.
Remember, if you are hunting in the places grouse live you will
spend a good share of each hunt with the gun held in one hand. A
clumsy, poorly balanced gun will tire you out very quickly under
these conditions.

If you don’t wear eyeglasses, get a pair of shooting glasses and
wear them. In the places grouse call home there are all kinds of
nasty sharp things. Personally I like amber lenses for clear days
and rose-colored lenses for gray days. No, I don’t wear them
because it is the trendy thing to do; they simply help me see

Now for the actual shooting part. Please do not for a second
think that I am encouraging or condoning sound shooting. Anyone who
has hunted with me knows that I am a stickler for safety, and I
would never encourage anyone to shoot at the mere sound of a
flushing bird. With that said, I must warn you that if you have
never hunted grouse early in the season before and refuse to shoot
at any bird that does not offer a full-field of view and
unobstructed shot, then you might just as well stay at home. When a
grouse flushes in early season cover the best you can hope for is a
glimpse of the bird.

During the millisecond that a grouse flashes between bushes or
branches an accomplished grouse hunter will determine the bird’s
direction and trajectory and instantly place a charge of shot in
what his brain determines is the approximate point at which shot
and bird should meet. Sometimes it works. There is no time for the
beautiful, smooth, flowing come-from-behind-and-follow-through
method that works so well on ducks, geese, and most other upland
birds. For early season grouse, it’s more of a poke-and-hope.

Of course not all hunters can adjust to this style of shooting.
I once took a good friend from Montana on an early season hunt for
ruffed grouse. It was the third week of September and we were
hunting up near Blackduck. I had hoped that a killer frost earlier
in the week might have knocked back some of the leaf cover, but it
had not.

This was a few years ago when bird numbers were high, and on our
first hunt of the morning, we made one loop around the outside edge
of a cutover that was grown up thick with immature aspens. We
flushed six grouse. I got off shots at four of the six and managed
to bag two of the grouse. My friend, who was accustomed to
pheasant, sharptails, and Huns flushing on the wide open prairie of
his home state, never popped a cap.

Back at the truck, I asked my friend why he had not shot at any
of the grouse. He looked at me and in all seriousness said,
“Because, it would have been like shooting at nothing.”

“Yup,” I said, “that describes it pretty well.

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