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.
Great season! Horrible season! About the same! There are certainly many different opinions regarding the 2012 Ruffed grouse season.
Beginning in July, we began hearing the positive reports regarding broods. “A lot of birds, Paul…going to be a great season.” “Best I’ve seen in 30 years, Paul.” In September, my wife, two shorthairs and I headed north for a couple of days of “research” on the partridge situation. We found about the same number of birds as last year.
And then came hunting season. After the first two weeks, I started getting the emails. The first one stated that everyone was lying. This gentleman was from Pittsburg, NH and he was very upset. He said he hunted hard for two days and never saw a bird. The next negative email was from an old friend and very experienced grouse hunter. With great gusto, he adamantly claimed the whole pre-season excitement was strictly a scam. False claims, my friend suggested, by tourism and lodge owners to persuade hunters to come north and spend their money. He even stated that he stopped by the Maine Fisheries and Wildlife office in Ashland, Maine and was fed a bunch of you-know-what about bird numbers.
And then there were the positive stories and/or personal observations. I hunted near Wentworth Location, ME the second week in October and found above average numbers of birds. Not great but very acceptable. Speaking of Pittsburg, NH, however, our group bumped into some hunters from that town and found that three hunters had killed their limit in two hours. Yes, they were road hunters; however, you still need a lot of birds for that many kills. Just recently, I spoke with a very well respected grouse guide in the Pittsburg area who consistently had 20 flush days in front of his dogs. And, I just spoke with an old friend who hunted the Maine North Woods from Ashland, Me and he and his friends killed their limit of grouse every day for three straight days…and they did it over bird dogs…not shooting road birds.
Why such a broad disparity of opinions? I think the number one reason is poor preparation. Pre-season scouting can make a huge difference in your success. Perhaps you’ve been hunting an old apple orchard for years with excellent results. This year, apples were good in some areas and non-existent in other areas. The point is that simply arriving in an area and expecting to see or flush a multitude of birds is poor planning. Unless you hire a professional guide, you need to do your homework.
If you have a favorite covert that is in its prime, you most likely found birds this year. That was true while hunting out of Sturtevant Pond Camps in Wentworth Location, ME. A new destination for us this year was Eagle Lake Sporting Camps in Eagle Lake, ME. Although this area was new, the camp managers gave us excellent tips on where to find birds and they were right. We found outstanding bird numbers.
How would I judge the 2012 Ruffed grouse season? On average, about the same as last year and the year before that…and maybe the year before that. Birds are where you find them.