Friday, March 20, 2009

Memories of the ruffed grouse.

Growing up in southern Worcester County there were many places that I could go hunt for this wild gallinaciouc fowl. The ruffed grouse is considered by mant upland bird hunters as one of the greatest game birds to be hunted. For some reason one cannot raise ruffed grouse in captivity like ring necked pheasants and stock them. So these birds are truly wild at heart. As a teenager it was common for a small group of us to hunt after school. We'd take our shotguns and leave them in our vehicles. ( Try that in this day and age) and head off to some of the mixed woodlands to hunt small game. Often we'd take squirrels and if lucky one or two ruffed grouse. Many times, while walking through the brush I'd flush up one of these birds and it would be a great surprise. A sudden shuddering of wings through the leaves and branches. Back then, Massachusetts allowed ruffed grouse hunting from the Columbus Day weekend to somewhere around the middle of January. There was a daily limit of two birds as I recall. What was nice was that the opportunity to hunt these birds gave you something to do in January. Deer season was long over at that time as well as the stocked pheasants that were available on various wildlife managementa areas, but you still had ruffed grouse.

I'd creep through with my grandfather's old double barreled 16 guage in hand and see what would happen. Most of the time I went home empty handed but once in a while I would be rewarded with a nice bird or two.

Over the years many changes occured that affected the ruffed grouse in a negative manner. Habitat loss was the greatest impact. I have an aquintence who studied wildlife biology at the University of Maine. He was working on a project regarding small game such as the ruffed grouse and he told me that small game is affected more by habitat loss and change than any other animal. Whitetailed deer have learned to thrive in the suburban environment as well as the wild turkey, but ruffed grouse need a lot of unbroken habitat. What I mean by that is they can't live between houses like deer and turkey are able to do. With this loss of critical habitat the numbers of this wonderful bird have dropped in places like southern New England. In Massachusetts , the season now is from the third Saturday in October to the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Again there is a two bird daily limit. I know that a large portion of Arcadia wildlife management area in southern Rhode Island is off limits to hunting of ruffed grouse. It is hard to imagine but then again I can understand it.

Is there a bright spot? Well, there is if you want to head north. I have hunted ruffed grouse in northern Maine a number of times and had a good time doing so. The standard method of grouse hunting may shock some people but it is legal and culturally accepted in the wilder parts. You basically drive the miles of paper company roads and look for ruffed grouse . You stop when they are spotted and try your luck. Don't laugh but one of my favorite ways to hunt ruffed grouse is not with the classic double barreled shotgun as often portrayed in some sporting magazines but with a handgun. One of my favorites is the Thompson Center Contender with a 45 Colt/410 bore barrel. Thompson Center chambers a 45 Colt barrel with a long chamber that will also allow a 410 shotshell to be chambered. In addition, there is shallow groove rifling and a straight rifled choke tube to straighten out the shot column as it exits the muzzle. I have taken a number of grouse using this gun in my excursions in Maine. I like but it does have it's limitations. The gun is really a 25 yard weapon at best. The other issue to think about is that you have a narrow shot column with the 410. Either you completely miss or you hit square on.

Many years ago I was befriended by a member of the Passamaquoddy tribe in Maine. I met the man while on a guided black bear hunt. He was quiet and sort of kept his own counsel but for some reason we hit it off. He invited me to go to his cabin and we'd hunt ruffed grouse. While there I met his wife and son . We would drive the back roads of Maine looking for grouse and if spotted, stop and get out of the vehicle. You load your firearm and see if you can stalk within range of the bird. It isn't as easy as it sounds. Many times the bird takes off at the sight of the vehicle. Once in the thick black growth of Maine you will find it very difficult to pursue.

It has been many years since I have specifically hunted for ruffed grouse. Changes in career as well as lifestyle has precluded me from taking a small game vacation to Maine. Now and then while bowhunting I will flush up a bird in southern Massachusets or northeastern Connecticut but for some reason I am not inclined to go out after them. You can say it is nothing to get worked up over but I am not sure if I want to hunt such a small population that seems to be hanging on. I figure with the predation from birds of prey, feral cats as well as the introduction of the fisher coupled with the invasion of yuppies into the "country" the bird has enough troubles without someone like me going after them with a shotgun.

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