Key to early season ruffed grouse success: slow down
The first couple weeks of ruffed grouse season are my least favorite time to hunt. For starters, I know that when I’m on public land I’ve usually got competition. Then there is the issue of the foliage, which starts out as thick as it’ll be all season and gradually thins throughout October and November.
All griping out of the way, when the temps are cool and the grouse season is open, it’s still worth going. But, it’s not enough to hit up your favorite two-track or logging road and hoof it until your dog goes on point or flushes a ruff across the trail.
Thick-cover grouse demand a bit of a slower approach, which isn’t a big deal with a pointer but can be a real problem if you’re running a flushing dog. Most retrievers will work to match your pace in the field, and if your pace is moderately fast to easy walking (while the dog is supposed to nose around in the thick stuff on the sides of the trail), he’ll probably miss birds.
This isn’t true for all dogs, but almost a rule for younger retrievers working on their first few seasons. Dogs need time to sort out all of the scents they encounter, and to pick up on the wind no matter which way the trail bends. This takes times, and if the dog is rushed, the results will be less than desirable.
As a naturally fast walker, this is a hard reality for me to embrace so I force myself to stop, often so that my dog can work. This has the added benefit of not only slowing the whole process down, but puts me at the ready more often when she does flush birds. It’s also an eye-opener, because it allows me to watch my dog relax and really work cover instead of blowing past it in an effort to keep up with me.
It doesn’t take too many flushes for that lesson to really sink in and make it a no-brainer reality that a snail’s pace is really the way to go for early-season ruffs.