Surveys indicate that, when it comes to popularity with Maine hunters, the grouse has no peer, whether it’s in the pan or in the puckerbrush. No doubt it is the grouse’s incredible wariness, speed and unpredictability that make it such a popular and sought-after game bird.

V. Paul Reynolds, Outdoors Columnist

The Ruffed Grouse, or as we say in Maine, pa’tridge, is the King of Game Birds for just about all upland hunters from the Great Lakes to Portage, Maine. Depending on what expert you consult, the grouse can fly from 20 mph to 35 mph. Whatever the true speed, when one explodes in front of you amid deep tangles of alders and thorn-apple, there is no tougher or more challenging shot for a game bird gunner. It is said that a grouse on the wing, at 40 feet per second, gives you no more than a second for that “jump shot.”

It is not only their keen senses and quick departures that make the grouse worthy of our admiration and, yes, even respect. The grouse is a survivor. Archaeology records indicate that grouse ancestry dates back to the Pleistocene Epoch, more than 25,000 years ago. Grouse eat just about anything in the woods and, when the winter winds and deep freeze closes in, they don’t migrate south. They burrow in the snow cover and dine on leftover buds.

At this moment, even before the debut of the frosty mornings and cascade of bright fall colors, the grouse hunters are cleaning shotguns, running gundogs, scouting good bird covers, and daydreaming of hunts to come.

The question repeats itself year after year: “What’s the grouse outlook?”

Maine’s state game bird biologist, Kelsey Sullivan, who was a guest on my Sunday radio program, Maine Outdoors, says that the grouse outlook for fall is “about average overall.” He notes that Northern Maine had a pretty wet spring, which may have had a negative impact on grouse broods in that neck of the woods. Ditto, Western Maine. Last fall, you may recall, there was an explosion of wild mushrooms. This kept a lot birds in deep cover until well after the first real frost. That may not be the case this October.

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The good news is that the regional biologist in the Greenville/Moosehead area is reporting some healthy broods and grouse sightings in this area. Sullivan, who is an upland hunter himself, likes hunting prospects north of Greenville and the Golden Road. “Central Maine may surprise you with grouse numbers this year as well,” says Sullivan.

Looking ahead to opening day, here are a couple of tips perhaps worth taking with you into the grouse coverts. 1) “Lead the bird. You can’t hit grouse if you don’t lead the bird.” 2) “Successful grouse shooting is far more dependent on woods savvy than shooting skill.” In other words, if you really understand grouse habits and habitat, you will be better able to maneuver for the best shot in the grouse woods.

Opening day for the grouse and woodcock season is Sept. 24. The season is a long one for grouse, closing on Dec. 31. Of the three-month grouse season, the first two weeks of October are by far the busiest. The earlier opener for grouse paves the way for an increasingly popular late September hunting/fishing combo activity known as “cast and blast.”

Don’t forget to wear a piece of hunter orange and hunt safely, always knowing where the other person is in the bird covers. Oh yes, be tender with that gun dog, even when, in the thrill of the flush, it forgets all that it has been taught.

So get out there with or without a gun dog, and enjoy one of the best outdoor months that Maine has to offer.

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal, an author, a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program, “Maine Outdoors,” heard at 7 p.m. Sundays on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. Contact him at [email protected]


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