Ruffed grouse. Bill Marchel/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS

Most Maine outdoor folks know the difference between a grouse and a partridge. Taxonomically they are one and the same, but if a bird flushes wildly it’s called a grouse; and if it stays on the ground and wanders off on foot it’s a partridge.

The ruffed grouse was the king of Maine game birds until the re-introduction of wild turkeys. However, it’s still immensely popular with everyone from wax-coated Filson-jacketed upland aficionados, to moose hunters and casual road riders. They can be hunted in a variety of ways, and here are a few, whether you’re new to the game or merely looking for a change of pace.

Let’s start with the “classic” hunt, which requires a good bird dog or two and traipsing through an aspen stand or a copse of early successional trees and shrubs. The dogs do most of the work, picking up and following a fresh scent to its source. Like many prey species, grouse may react to a perceived predator either by freezing of fleeing. When it works, the dogs hold the birds on point until the hunters are in position and ready. Then they’re given a command to flush, or the hunters move in and bump the birds.

You can do it without dogs but finding and flushing birds in range becomes more accidental and less likely. It helps if you know where to look. As noted, they prefer early-to-mid successional stands, particularly those dominated by pioneering species like aspen and birch. Fortunately, that habitat type occurs in abundance in industrial timberlands. You can find it farther south but in smaller patches where birds are fewer and often wilder, flushing out of range.

Next comes the traditional method. This involves driving or walking dirt logging roads and looking for birds, usually on the ground. It’s a much more casual endeavor that doesn’t require an early start. Grouse begin their day by feeding feverishly in the aforementioned aspen groves and tangled thickets. When their crops are full, they seek gravel, which they also ingest to help with breaking down hard-shelled nuts and seeds. This tactic is more successful in more remote areas where birds have fewer encounters with humans and are more inclined to watch and wait or wander away from an approaching person.

Then comes the serendipitous hunt, when you’re seeking other species but grouse become targets of opportunity. When I remember, I carry one arrow in my quiver with a small game or “bird” head, should a grouse wander unwittingly into one of my open shooting lanes. It can be challenging to change from a broadhead to a bird head as grouse are particularly wary of potentially perched predators like the goshawk.


Deer hunters, too, may want to add a grouse to the pot should their day go deerless, but caution is advised. Anything but a head shot will only mess up the meat, and that’s a pretty small target. Furthermore the sound of a gun shot will significantly reduce your odds of seeing a deer.

It’s not all that unusual to encounter a bird while jump-shooting ducks on a quiet stream or backwater. Your shotgun is more appropriate for the task though the duck loads with fewer, larger pellets aren’t ideal. Also remember you can’t have lead shot in your possession while hunting waterfowl.

It’s also worth noting that this fall may not be the best to try a new method. Cold, wet spring conditions limited productivity. Early reports from those scouting moose say there are a few birds around, but not many. Whatever you call them, grouse or partridge, they’re a hardy species and will quickly rebound from a single season of poor production.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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