The old saw goes something like this. “What’s the difference between a grouse and a partridge?”

Answer: ” A partridge is shot on the ground. A grouse is shot in the air.”

Whether you call it a grouse or a partridge, this is a very special, coveted game bird made so by its profound wariness and remarkable elusiveness.

John James Audubon wrote of the grouse: “Sometimes, when these birds are found on the sides of a steep hill, the moment they start, they dive towards the foot of the declivity, take a turn, and fly off in a direction so different from the one expected, that unless the sportsman is aware of the trick, he may not see them again that day.”

Indeed, grouse have earned their reputation as the King of Game Birds. They are to upland hunting what the wild eastern brook trout is to angling. And what an exciting, exhilarating quarry for an upland hunter and his canine companion!

Most sportsmen who appreciate the value of grouse as a game bird have grown accustomed to the spike-and-dip cyclical nature of grouse numbers year after year. We often ponder the same question that is always on the minds of wildlife biologists who manage game birds. “How does hunt mortality impact overall grouse populations?”

Maine bird biologist Brad Allen, who admits that our grouse get very little management attention as a rule, is excited about a new statewide grouse study. Says Allen,”…we still believe data are lacking in Maine to effectively inform grouse harvest management decisions. Further, there is a need to investigate the effects of land use patterns and habitat components on ruffed grouse population dynamics.”

Thanks to some extra federal money being generated by unusually high gun sales at the national level, Maine’s first in-depth grouse study will be undertaken. The study project is is titled “Understanding population dynamics of ruffed grouse inhabiting multiple use forest landscapes to inform habitat and harvest management”.

Allen notes that “As a harvested species, the effect of hunting mortality on partridge populations is a reoccurring question that continues to be debated among biologists, wardens, and hunters.”

This is a difficult question inasmuch as the population dynamics of grouse is conceded by experts to be a very complex process. Some sportsmen argue that hunting mortality has little overall impact on grouse numbers as compared with the profound effects of weather patterns and habitat degradation. Others assert that hunting mortality, as a product of season lengths and bag limits, significantly affects grouse numbers year after year.

Most of us who hunt grouse share a passion and reverence for this important little game bird. It will be interesting to learn more from the data that is forthcoming from this new statewide study.

Stay tuned.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected] . He has two books “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook” and his latest, “Backtrack.”

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