Saturday, December 7, 2013
Grouse hunting is like any other type of hunting. If you find the right type of habitat, you're going to increase your chances of success.
When scouting for grouse, look for the seeds, fruit and trees that provide their favorite meals.
Staff file photo
Many people are intimidated by the thought of bird hunting. They feel that they don't have the right equipment, they lack the experience or they don't have a dog.
Yet the truth is, grouse hunting can be quite simple. Upland bird hunting can be as uncomplicated as a walk in the woods, or a stroll along the edge of a field, or a drive along a logging road.
Certainly, your success will increase as you gain experience or befriend a hunter with a trained bird dog, but in its simplest form, all you need is your shotgun, a decent pair of boots and a hunting license.
Grouse, known to many as the king of game birds, are found throughout North America. Their range stretches from as far west as Alaska, and as far east as Labrador. We are fortunate to find grouse throughout the state of Maine, with some fantastic grouse hunting not far from many suburban towns.
If you want to start grouse hunting, you first must choose an area to hunt. Grouse, like any other animal, have basic needs that include food, water and shelter. Find a combination of these three and you are on the path to success.
Grouse need protection, both from avian predators and four-legged ones. A thick evergreen canopy can provide protection from hawks and owls, and a dense forest understory for ground cover helps protect grouse from land-based predators.
Protection isn't worth much if you have to travel long, exposed distances for food, so when scouting out grouse coverts, look for food nearby. Grouse love mixed stands of forests, where it turns from hardwoods to softwoods and then back to hardwoods.
Look for a stand of forest that has transition. Perhaps it was cut several years ago, or there was a fire that cleared out the brush. Regenerating clear-cuts with birch and aspen are favorites of grouse.
Grouse feast on an assortment of foods, such as seeds, fruit, insects, leaves and buds of trees such as birch, aspen, hornbeam, hazel and cherry. In the winter, aspens located near conifer canopies provide ideal habitat for roosting and for eating.
Water is the third essential aspect of grouse cover. In the spring, vegetation sprouts quickly along the shores of brooks, streams and ponds, providing food. Insect life is plentiful near water, offering more menu choices. Trees on the shoreline often include alders, another grouse favorite. Water also provides a respite from the heat.
Of course there are variations to these. Old, reverting farmland is a wonderful place to hunt grouse. Abandoned apple trees and field edges that are reverting back to the forest are ideal. Raspberry and blackberry stands are also beloved by grouse.
Grouse are territorial, and if all these factors are present, a home range for a grouse can be as small as 6 to 10 acres. Where you find one, you are likely to find several. Grouse have a habit of startling unsuspecting hunters. If you miss a shot, be ready for second chances, as not all grouse flush at once.
This time of year, wide-open chokes and small shot will increase your success.
Where do you find these types of habitats? If you spend time outdoors, you probably have several in mind already. There are plenty of public lands and private lands available.
Please ask first when accessing private land. I find many landowners very accommodating to hunters when you bring along a younger hunter you are introducing to the sport.
Keep an eye out for hunting spots this fall. As leaves identify themselves with their autumn colors, you can identify areas to hunt. If you can find different types of habitat near each other, you are bound to be successful.
Mark Latti is a former public information officer for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and a registered Maine Guide. He can be reached at: