Want to go grouse hunting but don’t have a dog? Grouse, like any other animal, are creatures of habitat and habit. Find areas that satisfy their basic needs of food, water and shelter, and you are likely to find grouse.

“Grouse like to eat fall fruits and seeds, insects and buds of trees. Fields bordering apple orchards, or anywhere you can find old apple trees are good places to find grouse,” said Kelsey Sullivan, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife game bird biologist. “Look for open areas that are bordered by cover – power lines, fields bordered by forests and old log landings.”

What you want to find is 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 eating.

And of course grouse need protection from predators because hunters aren’t the only ones who enjoy a meal of partridge. 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.

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.

Knowing when to hunt will also be an important factor in your success. Depending on the weather, grouse will adjust their behavior due to temperature, time of day and precipitation.

“Weather certainly can play a role in success if you don’t have a dog. When it’s raining, success is pretty low because birds will hold and won’t flush,” said Sullivan. “That’s when a dog can help. However, if it’s showery, especially later in the season and leaves have fallen, look for conifer cover and that’s where you are likely to find the birds.”

While rain may have birds holding, a cold snap or frost in the morning will have birds seeking sun and warmth.

“If it’s been a really cold night, they will find the sun and warm themselves in open patches,” said Sullivan. “It can be any opening, such as log landings, exposed logs or a rock in the sun.” If it’s a mild night and a mild day, they won’t be looking for sunshine and your best bet will be to look for an area where they feed.

“Grouse are going to be more active in the morning and the evening as they will be feeding. If they can get enough food, they will rest during the day,” said Sullivan. “It’s to their advantage not to move” and expose themselves to predators.

The time of year and knowing grouse habits also can increase your chances of success. Grouse are territorial. Earlier in the season, grouse broods that were born earlier in the spring will stay together. As fall progresses, the birds will begin to disperse as both juvenile males and females seek their own home range.

“In the beginning of the fall, you can encounter a grouse brood with multiple birds,” said Sullivan.

Be ready because that time of year, if you flush one bird, chances are you will flush another, offering you multiple opportunities at Maine’s favorite game bird.

Mark Latti is a Registered Maine Guide and the outreach coordinator for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

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