However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll find the same amount of success during that entire stretch of time. Many hunters agree that the best time to hunt these birds is early in the season, while they’re still in their family broods.
Biologists also recommend that you stop hunting the birds around December, as killing grouse during this time has proven to have a negative effect on the species’ overall survival numbers. If you can curb your hunting habits just a month early, you’ll find that more birds will appear the following year.
The birds fly down from their roost around this time, so be sure to check the seams between the larger trees, as well as open areas with thick brush. If you hunt with a dog, then you’ll find that the birds will lay down a lot of scent trails at sunrise.
Once the cold weather hits and the snow falls, redirect your search to check underneath coniferous trees. A long weekend of ruffed grouse hunting typically equals enough miles to exhaust even the most in-shape hunter.
A big thing that you’re going to want to think about before picking the best time to grouse hunt for you is to know what kind of areas you have to hunt. Pair that with the fact that other hunters typically don’t want to deal with the alarm clocks, lack of adequate coffee intake, and frost or dew to get out there & we’ve got a recipe for success.
During this time you’re going to want to hunt the areas between more mature timber where grouse roost for the night & the thick brush where they spend the day. If you manage to shoot one go ahead and open up its crop to figure out what the grouse are eating on that particular day.
After you know what their diet is at the moment, move on over to your favorite spot to hunt with that source of food. You’re likely going to have better luck swinging through the bird if you have our method of planting of shooting that we detail here mastered.
In the evenings you can find the grouse back in their transition areas between the thick cover & more mature timber. If you’ve found a great early morning spot, be sure to head back to that same area in the evenings.
There is some population overlap, suites and huskies look very much alike, and from a hunter’s perspective it really doesn’t matter much if they’re all just blue grouse. Ruffed grouse are the mid-size model of the upland bird family, measuring 16 to 18 inches in length and weighing from just under to just over a pound.
Ruffed grouse, or native pheasants, as they were once commonly called in Washington, are most abundant in lowland (under 2,000 feet) forests, both coniferous and deciduous, especially those that are a patchwork of clear cuts and standing timber of various ages, intertwined with brush creek and river bottoms. These areas provide both cover and the berries, seeds, plant and tree buds, clover and other food sources that grouse need.
In other parts of the country it’s hunted only with shotguns and often with dogs, but Washington hunters are at least as likely to knock it out of a tree with a .223 to the head or pick it off the shoulder of an old logging road with a .22 revolver as they are to take it on the wing with a load of 7 1/2’s from a double-barrel 20-gauge. Whatever your preferred hunting method or choice of firearms, there are ways to improve your chances of bagging a limit of ruffed grouse.
One way is to spend a lot of time in the woods during the first two or three weeks of Washington’s generous four-month grouse season. Finding yourself in the middle of a brood can be a lot like flushing a covey of quail, with birds erupting from the underbrush and flying in every direction.
Ruffed grouse often spend their summers feeding and rearing their young farther up the hillsides, then make their way into the lowlands where food may be more plentiful as the weather worsens in late-fall. Food availability, by the way, may well be a determining factor in whether there are any grouse to be found in a particular area, so knowing where and what they’re eating can very helpful in finding birds.
Besides providing a ready source of grit and places for birds to dust, roads and trails allow hunters to cover more ground in less time. Whether hunting open ground or thick cover, a stop-and-go approach often works well on forest grouse, especially ruffs.
Ruffed, blue and spruce grouse all have a reputation for not holding very well for a dog, and many Northwest hunters pursue them without a four-legged hunting partner. Many grouse hunters hang a bell on their dogs’ collars to help keep track of their whereabouts and to know when a pointer may have stopped and locked onto a bird.
That tactic can be more than a little frustrating for the purist shotgunned who likes to pick his birds out of the air, but a welcome sight to the hunter toting a rifle or handgun who much prefers a still target. Even more frustrating for those with a preference for moving birds is that once a grouse finds a comfortable spot in the trees, there’s a good chance it’s going to stay there until you shoot it or run out of ammunition trying.
For that reason, some hunters carry two guns into the grouse woods, a shotgun for wing shots and a small-caliber handgun for birds that decide to sit it out. Hunting in snow, by the way, is just one enticement for hunters to take full advantage of Washington’s long grouse seasons.
After most of the deer and elk seasons close in November, forest grouse seem to quickly forget about humans and guns and all the other things that may have made them nervous earlier in the fall. You don’t get a lot of second shots at a rising ruffed grouse, nor are doubles very common with these rather solitary birds, so a single-shot 20 with a modified choke barrel might work just fine in most situations.
There’s something to be said, however, for having as many pellets in the load as possible when you’re shooting at a grouse that’s dodging between trees and zigzagging around bushes, so a 20-gauge that’s chambered for 3-inch shells isn’t a bad way to go. Hiking up mountainsides or clawing your way through thick forests in search of grouse is hard work, and your shotgun tends to get heavier with each mile.
As in char hunting, a shoulder sling may be a worthwhile addition to whatever gun you chose for forest grouse. Some hunters like 6’s, but you get a lot more pellets in the same size load of 7 ½’s, and they’ll knock down a grouse just as well.
Matt Car Perhaps more than any other wing-shooting, knocking ruffed grouse out of the air with a shotgun is a matter of shooting quickly. All forest grouse, but especially ruffs, will startle you when they explode from cover, even when you know it’s coming, and before you can recover, they’ve put 35 yards, a small tree and a couple of tall bushes between themselves and the end of your gun barrel.
You’ll also find both blue and spruce grouse in more open country, where the trees tend to be farther apart and the undergrowth isn’t nearly as thick, usually giving a hunter more time for a decent shot. You may also get a chance to see the bird on the ground before the flush, not only because there’s less cover but because they might live up to their “fool hen” nickname and just sit there looking at you as you approach.
If you fail to shoot a grouse the first time it’s flushed, odds are you’re going to need a bigger load of larger shot should you get a second chance. Yep, you’re going to get soaked but if you have limited time over the weekend hunting grouse in the rain may just be worth it.
Just brushing past a single branch will send what feels like the entire rainstorm at you all at once. Now go ahead and add the type of thick cover that grouse like, and it won’t be long before you’re absolutely soaked.
Make sure you bring a change of clothes & keep a thermos of something warm in your truck for when you’re done. We’ve already touched on where they will be during certain times of the day & what kind of habitat they like, but when you’re hunting grouse in the rain it tends to throw a hitch into the normal game plan.
Where we can just duck inside to stay dry, they opt for spruce & pine trees if they’re available to at least keep from being rained on directly. If you can locate a younger stand of these trees (maybe head-height or a little taller), there is a very good chance you’re going to bump some birds.
There is a saying about upland hunting in Montana which makes a lot of sense: “He that walks the furthest, wins.” I’m not sure what you win: blisters, sore legs, chapped butt. But I do know when hunting sage grouse be prepared to walk.
Let’s change the wording of that saying just a little to something like, “He who hunts the smartest, has a better chance of finding birds.” I will admit there was a time when I set out to cover as much land as possible and as fast as I could. Taking some time, just sitting back and observing for a bit teaches you a lot.
I’ve also observed that in the evening, they head to and from the feeding area to where they will be the next morning, a good starting point. The birds will be closer to their feeding areas, allowing them to travel less and thus saving the most amount of energy they possibly can.
My mission was to walk a straight line back to the truck as quickly as possible. My dogs loved the cooler weather and covered extra ground.
As a result, I had a hard time making it back to the truck due to the numbers of birds the dogs were finding! Pretty much every find was in brush somewhat taller and denser than we had found them in earlier in the day.
You may not want to hunt them in the rain, but knowing where they will be when it stops gives you the advantage. Keep walking and letting your dog work the area until you are confident no birds are left.
Then the rest of the group gets up at half the distance the first bird did, giving me no time to reload. The last tip I would give is to ask ranchers and people who live in the area about the birds.
Just this year on opening weekend, we stopped and talked to a rancher working on his tractor. Thankfully, my hunting partner and I made the choice to let the rancher continue his meeting with all four birds each day.
Born and raised in Montana he has nurtured an addition to following American Brittany's out on the prairies. Brandon hopes by telling his story it will inspire others to head to the field and experience, what he has come to love, for themselves.