Saving Pennsylvania’s ruffed grouse
The first ruffed grouse I ever harvested was not taken in the classical sense. I was in my teens, hunting with my father and uncle for rabbits and pheasants during the later part of small game season. It was on a wooded hillside that held a good amount of thick underbrush, a perfect spot to find wild pheasants that had been chased from the knee-high cover of the thick fields of flatlands.
While moving along the hillside I happened to spot a grouse running for a patch of cover. I fired as it entered the thick growth, and was pleasantly surprised to find the bird lying still when I reached the cover.
I remember admiring the diminutive size of the bird — at least compared to a pheasant — its distinctive coloration of black, brown and white, feathered feet and the little tuff at the back of its head. I also recall the great taste it provided when my mother roasted it alongside a few pheasants for a Sunday family meal.
I must confess that I now recall harvesting only two more grouse, both on the wing, and at times I wasn’t hunting them particularly. Beyond that there were only misses, plus many flushes without even getting a shot off because of the speedy flying escape grouse are famous for.
Currently, our state bird is in deep trouble. West Nile virus has taken a heavy toll on the bird’s numbers, as has the disappearance of young forest growth that makes available the lush undergrowth that enables the bird to secure both food and protected nesting habitat.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission has begun a project the agency believes will restore grouse numbers in a “quick rebounding” manner. The program is titled the Grouse Priority Area Sitting Tool. The program identifies where disease risk is low, and grouse benefit high. According to the commission, it also identifies areas where the bird can quickly take advantage of habitat creation based on landscape variables and nearby source populations. (For those readers interested in viewing the tool and areas of interest in restoring grouse numbers, simply google the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Grouse Management — Best Practices).
I commend the Game Commission for taking this highly important step in an attempt to save ruffed grouse from disappearing throughout the state. Above anything else, habitat improvement seems to be the most important factor, as it is for all forms of wildlife.
I certainly hope the commission wins this battle, for it would be both a hideous and shocking statement to pronounce our state bird is the ruffed grouse, which by the way, has become extinct within the state.