Grouse Hunting: The Magic Hour (or hours).
In any outdoor pursuit, “when” is almost as important as “where”. I believe the Ruffed Grouse spends more time up in the trees than we realize. Common notion is that Grouse roost overnight in the trees, and also feed vigorously in trees starting in November through snow melt.
My experience has led me to believe that Grouse not only roost for the night in trees, but also loaf in trees throughout the day. Birds loafing or roosting in trees become very difficult to hunt. Figuring out when they come out of the trees to feed, water, dust, and migrate is vital.
So when is the optimal time?
It’s easier to start with when not to hunt. I find Grouse the hardest to find in September and most of October between about 11am and 3pm. I also find them difficult to find during the hour after dawn and 30 minutes before dusk.
I believe birds flutter to the ground when they wake up and start moving to food (or water during warm weather). More importantly I find they are moving to cover that offers protection. This is the classic stem density associated with Grouse hunting. It’s at this time that birds are spreading the most scent and are active. This makes the dogs job much easier than when birds are loafing or roosting – even if they’re doing so on the ground. Ideal roosting in the Great Lakes where I do all of my Grouse hunting involves conifers – with Spruce and Cedar pockets being my favorite. But don’t overlook Islands of more mature trees in close proximity to good stem density covers (birds moving towards protection as much as food). The greatest hour for the Grouse Hunter is the hour before the last hour of daylight. If it’s too dark to hunt at 8pm, I’d like to be on the ground between 6 and 7pm. In the evening no doubt birds are feeding vigorously, moving from loafing and roosting cover to feed and leaving lots of scent for dogs to work. Find the food, find the roosting and loafing covers and you’ll find birds. At the end of the day, though, there is never a bad time to be afield in pursuit of the King of All Game Birds, the Ruffed Grouse.
Fritz Heller is a Q5 Outdoors Pro Staff Member that lives with his 3 Labradors and American Cocker Spaniel in Northern Michigan. He’s an active member of the Ruffed Grouse Society and spends close to 150 hours a year on the ground chasing dogs that are chasing Grouse across the Great Lakes States.