Get an accelerated education on ruffed grouse hunting for this fall
Whether you live in ruffed grouse country or are inspired to take a trip to covers around the United States or Canada, it’s important to have a basic understanding of how to hunt ruffed grouse. A simple look at the basics can start the wheels turning into more advanced techniques and ideas for successful ruffed grouse hunting.
Ruffed grouse hunting gear
This can be as simple or as complicated as you choose. For some a simple shotgun with a proper choke, some blaze orange and a decent pair of boots and the world of grouse hunting is at your fingertips. For others it can progress to birds dogs, expensive side-by-sides, and tech clothing that considers every detail of the hunt. Both are correct, one is not better than the other. This is a user-based experience.
A grouse hunting shotgun
About the only real requirement of having a shotgun for ruffed grouse hunting is that you can shoot it straight. It does not matter how cheap (or expensive) it may be. Most people will pick between a 12-gauge to a 28-gauge and some will venture as low as a .410 caliber. Considering the basic idea of what works well for you is often hatched out on a skeet range. For instance, I am a small framed person; put a 12-gauge in my hands and my shooting accuracy starts to decline. Replace that with a 20- or 28-gauge and my numbers start to come up again. Use what works for you. Check out the article Upland Shotguns – Which is Right for Bird Hunting.
In a perfect world, you want to be able to choose the chokes that go in that shotgun. Ruffed grouse hunting usually starts with some very close shooting in the early season in thick foliage — calling for cylinder, skeet, and improved cylinder chokes. As the season progresses and the leaves fall, shooting can start to extend range — situations where the improved cylinder and modified chokes make more sense. Check out this article on How to Choose Shot Sizes and Chokes by the Seasons to get an accurate look on both chokes and shot size selections.
Ruffed grouse hunting clothing
Blaze orange is always a must. Make sure you meet the state requirements on the amount of blaze orange you wear and grab a hat and/or vest to make that happen. Safety is a huge factor in any kind of upland hunting; add in dogs, some other hunters and everyone needs to be aware of locations.
Past that, a pair of solid waterproof boots can be crucial. Ruffed grouse hunting can take you through diverse landscapes ranging from wet areas to elevation based on the regions you are hunting. It also involves a lot of walking, so be comfortable.
Other clothing that can make life easier and more evolved in grouse hunting can include such things as brush pants. They are purpose-designed to keep those thorns and thick cover from tearing you up more than need be as grouse like thick and vicious escape cover. You may also want an upland vest or upland jacket that gives proper locations for stuff like shotgun shells and bagged birds.
A grouse dog
Now as much as many would like to tell you otherwise, a grouse dog is not a requirement. Does a well trained bird dog certainly make ruffed grouse hunting a bit easier on life and bird recovery more efficient? Sure. But just getting into something as complex as grouse hunting does not always mean diving in head first until we get some of the basics under our belts. If the opportunity presents itself, you should certainly try and hunt ruffed grouse over someone else’s bird dog. On those occasions, be mindful of the etiquette and safety of hunting over someone else’s bird dog. Get familiar with the article The Etiquette of Hunting Over Someone Else’s Bird Dog.
Once you start thinking about taking the plunge into the exciting world of bird dogs check out the breeds available. Different breeds do things differently and not all people have the same wants or needs. It’s important to make those chooses based on what you intend to hunt and what daily life looks like with a bird dog in your life. The basics start as simple of choosing between a flushing breed or a pointing breed and then breaking down from there.
Understanding the ruffed grouse
The ruffed grouse is often considered the “king of upland birds.” This tag is often credited to the thick and difficult shooting cover that ruffed grouse inherently live in. It’s not impossible and some basic advice from articles like Learning How to Shoot Through Thick Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock Cover can help you ignore the trees. But before you even go that far, check out the Ruffed Grouse – Upland Game Species Profile to get a basic overview of this iconic bird.
Identifying ruffed grouse habitat
If you cannot identify where ruffed grouse live it will, of course, be pretty difficult to find one of these birds. Getting a really good understanding of ruffed grouse habitat is crucial to finding birds. You can read deeper into this with How to Identify Ruffed Grouse Habitat by biologist Ryan Lisson. Your understanding of this will evolve over time, and it’s important to take the time to look around your cover after you have seen a ruffed grouse. Ask yourself the questions: why was this bird here? Was it food, cover, something that sticks out that you will find elsewhere? With time, you will begin to accelerate in this aspect and expand your areas to hunt.
You can also narrow you focus on things like a food source and build your foundational knowledge from there without having to understand all the nuances of grouse habitat. A perfect example is Targeting Mountain Ash for Ruffed Grouse Hunting.
Ruffed grouse hunting tends to be a public land pursuit, whether it’s state or federal property or land that allows public access like logging country. Logging country and logging in general play a critical roll in good ruffed grouse hunting. Many hunters will often look for logging cuts that have occurred usually in the past 20 years. Based on how fast or how slow that cover comes back can affect how soon or how long the cover is viable.
Shooting ruffed grouse
The difference between a ruffed grouse and partridge is that one was in the air while the other was standing on the ground (or a tree limb). In a cultural sense, many passionate ruffed grouse hunters do not look kindly upon shooting “partridge” on the ground. Bear in mind the famous words of George Bird Evans singing in the back of our minds, “Be worthy of your game.”
However, many of us have evolved from young days when this was a normal part of hunting life, part of growing into being a ruffed grouse hunter. This is a user experience and wherever you are on the path to being an upland hunter, you should enjoy it for what you want it to be as long as you follow the laws in the process. At some point we all decide to start letting them get up in the air, or require a staunch point from a well broke bird dog. Just to make it clear, you should never shoot a ruffed grouse on the ground when a bird dog is involved for safety reasons. Keep that ethical idea stored in your mind for hunts with bird dogs.
Practice should be a cornerstone to however you decide to shoot these birds. Skeet shooting was in fact invented by some passionate ruffed grouse hunters and makes a great way to familiarize yourself with your shotgun. You can check out some more detailed articles on wingshooting techniques like What is the Churchill Method of Wingshooting, and Practicing Gun Mount.
Hunting ruffed grouse without a dog
For those of you who venture into hunting without a bird dog, you will have to change your methodology a bit. Instead of walking up onto pointed birds or hunting ruffed grouse with flushing dogs you will have to alter a bit of your behavior to increase your odds. How Pausing Causes Ruffed Grouse to Flush is a critical piece of advice than can make birds that feel safe in escape cover get nervous enough to surrender their positions with an unexpected flush. After that, you will have to put in some extra work when recovering downed birds. Check out the article How to Recover More Birds Without a Dog.
Add the American woodcock to your hunt
The American woodcock is often hand-in-hand with the ruffed grouse. This migratory species will pass through grouse covers as they head south to winter. They can make for easier shooting and added excitement through a long day walking. Check out A Guide to American Woodcock Hunting
Where to meet other ruffed grouse hunters
Interested in picking up someone to mentor you or just talk about grouse hunting? The Ruffed Grouse Society is a very welcoming organization that has many events set up for just that type of interaction. Check out a list of their events to find “birds n brews” dates and your local chapter. Ruffed grouse hunters are a diverse bunch and all sorts of people are ready and willing to help someone else pursue their passion.
Eating ruffed grouse
Ruffed grouse is considered one of the mildest and most sought-after game bird meats. Its light flavor is easily accommodated to people’s differing tastes; it can be eaten in many different forms. From a simple, oven roasted bird to more advanced recipes, the ruffed grouse is sure to be good table fare.
Ruffed grouse can be plucked, skinned, breasted, and prepared in other ways. It can be aged and freezes well. We suggest checking out our friend Hank Shaw from Hunter Angler Gardner Cook to get some great recipes and also check out his book Pheasant, Quail, Cottontail which takes a deeper dive into handling and preparing ruffed grouse.
Where to get more ruffed grouse content
We will constantly be adding more content under the ruffed grouse hunting category. We explore more advanced techniques, cultural articles, the history of ruffed grouse, and of course the critical conservation issues that threaten the future of this beloved upland game bird right now.
For some great ruffed grouse hunting videos check out Flushing Grouse, Adventure Awaits, Those Moments, Camp Thunderbird, Partridge Country, Because They’re Wild, and Searching. We will continue to update this list as new films come out.
A.J. DeRosa founded Project Upland in 2014 as an excuse to go hunting more often (and it worked). A New England native, he grew up hunting and has spent over 35 years in pursuit of big and small game species across three continents. He has a passion for side-by-side shotguns, inspiring him to travel the world to meet the people and places from which they come. Looking to turn his passion into inspiration for others, AJ was first published in 2004 and went on to write his first book The Urban Deer Complex in 2014. He soon discovered a love for filmmaking, particularly the challenge of capturing ruffed grouse with a camera, which led to the award-winning Project Upland film series. AJ's love for all things wild has caused him to advocate on the federal and state levels to promote and expand conservation policy, habitat funding, and upland game bird awareness. He currently serves as the Strafford County New Hampshire Fish & Game Commissioner in order to give back to his community and to further the mission of the agency. When those hunting excuses are in play, you can find him wandering behind his Wirehaired Pointing Griffon in the mountains of New England and anywhere else the birds take them.