Maine’s Ruffed Grouse, or pa’tridge, is a legendary and very popular game bird. A recent study by a survey firm hired by the state revealed that, next to deer hunting, licensed Maine hunters like grouse hunting best of all.

How did this fall’s bird hunt go? Were the birds there in sufficient numbers to make it interesting? My talks with hunters indicate that it was a mixed bag. Some said they saw plenty of birds while others say the pickings were slim.

On the final few days of my futile deer hunt in the north woods, grouse were as plentiful as I have seen in years. Looking back, I would have been better off to have left the .270 on the gun rack at camp and taken my wife’s little single shot .410 for a walk on the back roads just before sunset.

Brad Allen, an avid upland hunter himself and the state’s game bird biologist, is also on the same page with the mixed-bag conclusion when it comes to bird numbers. “Most ( regional biologists) reported fair to good numbers of grouse in their travels,” Allen said. “Talk to ten people and five will say it’s great and the other five will say it’s poor. Some areas contain high concentrations of birds, others not as many.”

Grouse hunters and bird biologists ask the same question: why are grouse numbers so spotty? How can they be so plentiful in one pocket of woods and practically non-existent somewhere else?

A newly launched ongoing grouse study, that is a year old, is already beginning to shed some light. A collaborative effort by the University of Maine and DIF&W, the study involves following grouse behavior and mortality using radio tracking collars. Some recent findings: Of 105 birds studied, 16 were shot by hunters; a number of birds were killed by mammalian and avian predators. Four hens were killed in the spring by predators while nesting.

Data on reproduction and survival underscores what an iffy proposition it is to raise a family in the wilderness. With the studied grouse, the average number of eggs in the nest was 10. Six weeks later the collared grouse hen had on average a little more than two chicks still alive!

This grouse study is also looking at a grouse’s favorite cover, the relationship between vegetation and habitat selection. The study also confirmed longtime popular conjecture that, despite a grouse’s incredible resilience, hard Maine winter’s kill grouse just like they do deer.

The good news is that the study is ongoing. What will this winter and spring mean to Maine’s most sought after game bird? 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.” 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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