Grouse Hunting: Winter Tips

The ever-elusive grouse, a ground bird that excels in hiding and impeccably blending into local surroundings, is a popular bird hunting activity. As winter fast approaches, grouse migrate, adapting to their surroundings. Areas that were teaming with grouse before Halloween may be abandoned after Thanksgiving, and visa versa may also be true. This is especially true in the north’s frigid temperatures, when the dramatic cold weather that descends between autumn and winter changes the very essence of the landscape.

First, to find the elusive grouse, a hunter needs to focus his/her search on two crucial elements: food and warmth. Grouse need both to survive, especially in cold winters.

Some valuable winter grouse hunting tips include:

·      Stay Warm, Ye Grouse! – In areas where the snow exceeds 10 inches, grouse are known to fly into a snow bank to bed down for the evening. This climate is much like an igloo, helping conserve valuable body heat. Grouse typically forage only a few hours daily, during the late mornings or midday. In heavy snow conditions, hunters are advised to hunt grouse between the hours of 9:30AM and 2PM for best results. If a grouse is not able to burrow into a snow bank, hunters should consider looking under dense evergreen trees, as these provide some protection from the elements. Brush piles are also excellent areas for hunters to search for grouse.

·      Dietary Habits – Each distinct area of the U.S. differs for grouse eating habits.

o   Western States – Grouse eat the small conifer needles from Douglas Firs and in lower elevations, gravitate towards aspen trees for nutrition.

o   Northeast and Upper Midwest – The dormant winter buds of the male aspen and birch trees contribute to the majority of a grouse’s diet. In this area, the Highbush Cranberry is another grouse favorite, as some twigs retain their berries through the winter months.

o   Southern Appalachians – In this area grouse have a wide variety of foods, including mountain laurel, hornbeam buds, clover, white oak acorns, sumac berries, hazelnuts, teaberry, greenbrier, dried wild grape.

o   Farmlands – While not specifically a region within the U.S., grouse love to feed on the forested edges of cornfields. This high-octane food provides valuable nutrients to grouse during these cold winter months.

·      Learn New Tricks – The famous saying, “Can’t teach an old dog new tricks” – Well, bah-humbug. Some of the best hunters don’t remain in steady ruts, but consistently search out new hunting areas and techniques for grouse.

·      Long-Range Loads – As winter grouse have a heavier, dense coating of feathers to protect them from the elements, and most hunters are forced to take longer shots, many experienced winter grouse hunters recommend using a 20-gauge double, with 7/8 ounce of hard No. 7-1/2 for winter months.

·      Hoppin’ Grouse Season – There are several states that are renowned for excellent winter grouse hunting. These include: Idaho, Wisconsin, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, West Virginia, Tennessee and Vermont. Check with local wildlife game divisions and conform local rules and regulations prior to planning a hunt.

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