Finding new grouse hunting covers in New England with the Scout-N-Hunt app
The truck crept to a slow halt and I stared out my driver’s side window. I surveyed the surrounding plant life and took mental note of where berries hung from mountain ash. The faint hum of a chainsaw lingered in the distance, muffled by the mountain between us. Prime grouse habitat was everywhere, or at least it appeared to be. I looked at my phone, the Scout-N-Hunt map opened to an area with multiple patches of bright red signifying prime age timber cuts.
Up until this day I thought I was so clever. I had hunted this cover for some years, and yet here, the Scout-N-Hunt map was lit up like a Christmas tree. It was like a partridge in a pear tree, singing about my hidden gem to everyone who had a subscription. That all sounds sore, but truth be told it was extremely exciting. Northern New Hampshire is a big place and Maine is even bigger, and I was holding streamlined adventure in my hands. I am not sure I could hunt all the spots these two states have to offer in a lifetime. In addition, “spots” are always evolving and changing over time.
Ruffed grouse hunting is not for the faint of heart. It is frustrating most days and grouse never behave like in those Ripley paintings I had studied for so long. That is the allure of hunting ruffed grouse; the miles, the empty shells, and missed points make that moment when it does come together with the ecstasy of a New England upland hunter. But the barriers to hunting grouse, particularly learning how to identify grouse habitat, can be challenging. Mentors are often too tight-lipped to share any meaningful covers and, in some cases, some hunters never truly learned or grasped what grouse cover actually is, relying instead on tradition and habit.
Rewind just a few decades and places like eastern Massachusetts still had respectable numbers of grouse. Finding grouse back then did not take a biologist or a novel to understand. Many argue that these peaks in grouse numbers were unnaturally high because of the expired farming operations in New England, setting an unrealistic bar for generations to come.
Scout-N-Hunt resolves the single greatest hurdle in becoming a grouse hunter: finding and identifying suitable covers. It can potentially put you right into prime grouse habitat. Sure, it doesn’t show you how to hunt the cover, or how to shoot straight in said cover, but seeing birds will keep you engaged long enough to learn some tricks of your own. We can have all the theories in the world, but until we start seeing birds and discovering the subtle details around them, we will never become self-sufficient bird hunters.
What is Scout-N-Hunt?
Each year around September, Nick Larson of the Project Upland Podcast brings on Ann Jandernoa to talk grouse habitat and hunting. I have come to love this annual tradition; I feel like I have learned more in those hour-long interviews about grouse hunting and habitat theory than I have with most of my hunting days. The Scout-N-Hunt app is the masterpiece of Ann Jandernoa, a forester, cartographer, professional hunting guide, grouse dog trainer, and author. Not too long ago the Scout-N-Hunt maps were all printed on paper. Leaving one of those gems on your dashboard was an invitation for a friend to accidentally take it home. They were highly coveted scouting tools, but as technology changed, Ann moved the maps over to a GIS mapping phone app called “Carry Map.”
To understand what Scout-N-Hunt truly is, you must understand how quickly ruffed grouse habitat can change. With a combination of tree growth and new timber harvesting, prime grouse habitat changes from year to year. Ann uses her skills as a forester and cartographer to compile data across various mapping and forestry resources to piece together the information published in the Scout-N-Hunt app. Ann even goes as far as visiting the states she offers via Scout-N-Hunt to perfect her offerings. It is a labor-intensive process that allows us to reap the rewards with a simple app on our cell phones.
How does Scout-N-Hunt work?
Scout-N-Hunt uses the GIS service Carry Map, which can be downloaded on Apple, Android, and Windows. You can scout from the comfort of your home to get started, but one of the great things about the app is that, with your habitat map downloaded, it is fully functional offline. This is immensely important to those of us who often find ourselves hunting and scouting deep into country with little to no cell phone service.
The map uses color coding to indicate likely grouse habitat. Red indicates prime timber cuts, dark green equates to conifer, lighter green to conifer/hardwood mix, and brown indicates hardwoods. In some parts of the states where cutting is less prevalent, the yellow indicates lowland shrub like alder and willow which can be critical to finding grouse and woodcock.
The Scout-N-Hunt website has a fair amount of resources on how to download and set up your map on the app. I found this easy enough to do, and once it was properly set up, it was very simple to use.
Leading up to this hunting season, I keyed in on an area in my town (located in the central part of the state) that had a yellow indication in the app. When I arrived to check it out, I found quite the mix of both alders and grouse in respectable supply. Finding alders in this area is often easier said than done, especially if you did not grow up hunting the area. The app streamlined the whole scouting process, which frees up my time to actually hunt. Ultimately, this mapping system puts a lot of adventure right at your fingertips. While it is possible that some covers may be a miss, which should be accepted as part of grouse hunting from the get-go, the data used to identify so many potential covers will flatten your learning curve and help you maximize your time in the woods.
When it came to building the New England versions of these maps, Ann has pointed out that she focused on low population areas, away from farmland and major cities, that made the most sense for viable timber activity and grouse habitat. The nature of the forest data available in New England requires that Ann do a lot of leg work to combine all sorts of mapping data into a usable format. New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine are covered but Massachusetts is not. If you expand to the greater northeast region, New York and Pennsylvania are available. For those brave enough to hit the southern Appalachians, you will find West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina covered.
The upper Midwest is known for better tracking and access to this forestry data, and, in fact, Scout-N-Hunt originates from the upper Midwest. Anyone venturing to those regions (or living there) will be very happy with the results provided by this app. The big three grouse states are covered: Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. I have plenty of good experiences and hunts because of this app in those states.
More recently there has been the addition of grassland and crop data focusing on pheasant, quail, and sharptails in the west. States covered include the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Iowa. Western states all the way to California have been mapped, but the app does not hold the key habitat data points like the states listed above.
Is Scout-N-Hunt worth it?
At a price of $65 per state, or $120 for all states, I think it would be hard to argue against its usefulness. If given the chance to pay $65 for a single good cover, most people would gladly break open their wallets. I can say with confidence that it will find you more than one new grouse cover this season and is particularly worth it for those new to grouse hunting that lack good mentorship.
Furthermore, I would suggest catching up on the previous podcasts with Ann because you will learn in more detail about how the maps are built, theories of grouse cover, and how to use the app to your best advantage. As always, we welcome those that have used Scout-N-Hunt to comment below and give more insight and suggestions on the platform. We hope this puts at least one good hunting memory in the bag for you this season.
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 30 years in pursuit of big and small game species across three continents. He started collecting guns on his 18th birthday and eventually found his 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.