Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal.
In the past several columns, I’ve written about dog training. Although dogs are the primary focus of this column, let’s take a break this month and talk about birds….Ruffed Grouse to be specific.
Have you ever wondered how your local grouse population stacks up against other states? Well, thanks to The Loyal Order of Dedicated Grouse Hunters, I have those statistics. To the best of my knowledge, the Loyal Order is the only entity that actually conducts an annual state-by-state survey on grouse hunting success. Obviously, it can’t be a perfect survey. There are many variables such as the hunter’s ability to identify good grouse cover, the quality of the hunter’s dog and perhaps fudged figures on the down side to discourage out-of-state hunters from locating your favorite coverts.
States that have been highly publicized for their grouse populations get a tremendous number of out-of-state hunters. Dillon, my wife and I made the 26 hour drive to Price County, Wisconsin, in October of 2007. Price County is advertised as the Grouse Capital of the World. I spent two months buying and studying maps of Price and Lincoln counties in northern Wisconsin. I had picked out numerous areas where lumber had been harvested about 7-10 years ago and should now have excellent grouse cover. We had reservations at Palmquist Farm, a farm owned by Jim and Helen Palmquist, a delightful Finnish couple.
Everything was in order for a great hunt; however, we were soon disappointed. The hunting pressure was tremendous. No matter how remote you were, there were pickup trucks, with dog crates, lined up along every gravel or dirt road. Over the week, we counted license plates from 13 different states. There are a lot of grouse in this area of Wisconsin. Since they are pressured hard, they run like a greyhound and, even with the best dogs, flush 30 to 40 yards in front of the dog. That’s tough hunting.
Although there are some excellent Maine and New Hampshire camps that advertise grouse hunting (Libby Camps in Maine and Tall Timber in New Hampshire are examples), New Englanders in general don’t reveal or publicize their grouse coverts. In fact, there are very few hunters from New England that participate in the Loyal Order of Dedicated Grouse Hunters annual survey. My point is that the figures I’m about to reveal might be tainted for Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. As one good friend from New Hampshire says: “If I took you to my grouse coverts, I would have to blind fold you.”
The Royal Order provides numerous statistics, i.e., number of hunters in survey by state, days hunted, hours hunted, flushes, flushes per hour, birds shot at, birds killed, percentage of birds shot at that are actually killed, gun make, gun action, gauge, choke, breed of dog and points or flushes by dog. It’s a wealth of information that could fill several columns to promote the best gauge, best choke, best dog, etc. for grouse hunting. Although I may cover some of these topics in a future column, the statistic that I look at first is the flushes per hour.
The state with the most flushes per hour for this past season is Minnesota. With 21 hunters reporting, they had 1877 flushes for 832 hours of hunting. That gives them 2.26 flushes per hour. The state with the second highest flushes per hour was Wisconsin. Fifty-eight grouse hunters from the Badger State reported 3804 flushes in 1915 hours of hunting. That’s 1.99 flushes per hour. The third highest number of flushes per hour goes to Michigan with 78 hunters reporting 4491 flushes for 2893 hours for an average of 1.73. Moving east, Pennsylvania hunters reported 1.68 flushes per hour and New York hunters reported 1.52 flushes per hour.
For the three northern New England states, Vermont hunters reported 1.47 flushes per hour, New Hampshire hunters reported 1.31 flushes per hour and Maine folks reported .83 flushes per hour. If you’re an avid New England grouser, you now know how you stack-up against those “big time” grouse states. If you’re from Maine, don’t be discouraged by these numbers. Only five hunters reported from Maine. I hunt Maine extensively in October. Although some of my traditional coverts may have been down this past season, I found new coverts with abundant grouse populations…and no other hunters. My flushes per hour last year in those new Maine coverts were close to three which is pretty good in today’s environment. And being an avid pointing dog man, half of those flushes were over a point, which makes it even sweeter.
If you’re planning on booking a grouse-hunting trip to one of the many excellent lodges/camps in northern New England, I’m predicting a good year. Weather so far has been conducive to chick survival. And the guides at those good camps watch grouse activity all summer and have a pretty good idea where to head in the fall. Also, those guides have very good dogs.
I mentioned earlier in this column that I had studied maps before I went to Wisconsin. If you’re an avid grouse hunter, checkout Northwind Enterprises at www.northwnd.com. They have a plethora of maps, prepared just for the grouse hunter, covering several states; including New England.
An avid grouse hunter should also become a member of The Loyal Order of Dedicated Grouse Hunters. You get a neat little newsletter titled Grouse Tales. The cost is $15 per calendar year; $20 will cover the remainder of this year and all of 2010. Mail to Ken Szabo, 35162 Schoolhouse Road, N. Ridgeville, Ohio 44039. Ken’s email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Readers, train your dogs now; bird season is not that far away.