It’s that time of year again when the leaves begin to change and upland hunters begin their grouse-hunting expeditions. It can be an enjoyable and rewarding time of year.
Grouse hunting can be challenging without the assistance of a dog. You need an attentive canine that can point or flush out the birds you wish to shoot.
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Scouting the Area
Grouse hunting without a dog can be challenging, but still possible in certain regions such as the upper Midwest where there are plenty of grouse and plentiful hunters who have access to forestry data that helps pinpoint suitable hunting grounds. If you’re thinking about trying your hand at it without a canine companion, bear in mind that your chances for success are greatly reduced.
Before anything else, a word of caution: Grouse are territorial birds and select their territory based on three elements: food, cover, and water. For these to coexist successfully in harmony, an optimal habitat must contain all three factors.
To find these ingredients, it’s best to scout the area beforehand. Utilizing GPS and an app like Scout-N-Hunt, you can identify prime spots where grouse are likely to be.
Once you’ve located an ideal spot, map it with the app to see different colored circles denoting different types of habitat. Red indicates prime timber cuts, dark green implies conifer forests and lighter green signifies hardwoods that could attract grouse.
Grouse typically avoid open terrain because it’s not as dense or inviting as their preferred cover. They feed on various tender green forbs, buds, fruits, and seeds.
Additionally, look for thick laurel, rhododendron, and honeysuckle thickets sheltered by trees. These are places where grouse can hide and feed without detection by hunters.
Grouses often flush when they hear or see a disturbance, so it’s best to move slowly in a zigzag pattern.
When scouting for grouse, be sure to look for drumming trails. These often feature multiple male drummers in one area. If there are multiple trails, there’s a good chance that the spring mating ritual was successful and there will be an abundance of grouse to hunt.
Scouting Tip: Take a step back from the drumming trail and observe the forest as a whole. Doing this may enable you to identify areas where there are transitions between various age classes, mature forests, or young stands of managed forests.
Once you’ve identified some potential targets, it’s time to get dirty. Comfort is key while hunting, so makes sure your boots can handle whatever comes your way in the woods. Safety must also come first; don your blaze orange and familiarize yourself with all safe shooting zone rules.
Hunting the Area
When you don’t have access to a dog that can help locate birds, you’ll have to improvise. Fortunately, various strategies can increase your chances of successfully finding and taking home an elusive grouse.
Start by scouting the area before hunting it. This will give you a better insight into what wildlife is doing in an area and help determine where to set up your stand. To do this, drive around in the morning and evening hours looking for trails, boot tracks, or other signs of animals in an area.
You may find games in areas without other hunters, as competition will drive animals away from an area. It’s also wise to scout around the edges of large fields like CRP and harvested grain fields in case there are no other hunters around.
To effectively hunt these fields, it’s best to move through them slowly and softly. Doing this helps keep your voice from echoing too far into the woods, plus it makes it easier to hear the game coming your way.
Another strategy is to gather together with other hunters and spread across a field or fence line in an expansive motion. For optimal success, have around six people per group.
When the cover is thick and you can’t scout out the area beforehand, this approach may be your best bet. The wind is likely to blow birds from the sides and onto your lenses when moving, but it’s not always easy to predict its direction.
To effectively block and push birds away, post two buddies at each end of the cover. The other hunters then slowly walk along the fence line, one on either side of each shooter.
Hunters should wear plenty of blaze orange to be visible and be aware of the safe shooting zone rules. These regulations help guarantee both the safety of everyone in the group as well as that of any birds being hunted.
Hunting Without a Dog
Grouse can be a challenging bird to hunt without the assistance of a dog. Many grouse hunters rely on their canine partners for tracking, pointing, and retrieving downed birds; however, for some individuals life circumstances prevent them from owning a pet and thus make grouse hunting impossible.
While it is possible to hunt grouse without a dog, doing so can significantly lower your success rate. The key to successful hunting without a canine companion lies in awareness and preparation.
Grouse hunters with experience often identify hotspots in the woods that have been used by other hunters for years. These spots may include logged areas, 10-year-old burns, and overgrown farms colonized with poplar trees.
Grouse thrive in habitat features that offer shelter and food, as well as help them conserve body heat during the wintertime.
To locate these hotspots, take your time walking trails and logging roads, stopping every few steps and noting what type of cover the grouse are in at various times of the day. In late season especially, they may be found congregated together in groups of two or three.
Be mindful not to overhunt the area and cover too much ground at once; doing so could make grouse nervous and cause them to flee their hides.
When hunting without a dog, it is essential to be ready for shots at all times. While this may be challenging when out hiking, staying alert is paramount.
Grouse hunters often make the mistake of not being ready to shoot when a bird flushes from their hide. This can lead to getting spooked and missing an opportunity for taking down a grouse.
Grouse hunters must always be ready to shoot when a bird flushes, unlike pheasant hunting where you typically have your dog’s heads up. While this can be challenging when hunting alone, you must remain alert at all times to effectively shoot when necessary.
Grouse hunting without a dog is possible if you have the correct gear and are aware of your surroundings. Be sure to wear bright orange apparel and appropriate outerwear when entering the woods, and never forget your gun at all times.
Hunting with a Dog
Grouse hunters don’t always rely on dogs, but some strategies can increase your success without one.
The initial strategy should be to take your time in the woods and search for birds that will stay still until you get close. To do this, adjust your pace and direction of travel while keeping your shotgun ready to fire at any sign of movement.
When you spot a bird, try to flush it before it takes flight so your shotgun will have time to aim at its target.
You can improve your chances of a flush by using cover to corral birds that might otherwise run away. This technique works particularly well on Ruffed Grouse.
A reliable pointing dog is essential for any successful grouse hunt. The English setter is one of the most well-known and beloved hunting breeds.
These majestic-looking dogs possess an acute sense of smell for locating grouse and are highly adept at tracking them down. This makes them the ideal choice for grouse hunters seeking a versatile gundog that is proficient in both pointing and flushing grouse.
Ruffed Grouse Hounds are renowned for their strong pointing ability and keen eyesight, which makes them especially helpful in locating downed birds.
Another essential aspect of grouse hunting is the use of scent. Whether you are searching for a live bird or its carcass, having the correct aroma will help you locate it quickly and accurately.
You might be able to detect the location of a bird by listening to it clucking or drumming around its territory. Some ruffed grouse make this sound when they are distressed or about to take off.
Depending on where you hunt, this sound may not be a highly accurate indicator of location. However, it can still be useful in recognizing a grouse’s presence and giving an idea of its range.
Grouse hunters often attach bells to their dogs’ collars to monitor their whereabouts in the woods. Others put fluorescent orange vests on their dogs for increased visibility at night. A chest protector may also be beneficial if your pup hunts in brushy or wooded areas where scrapes and thorns are common.