As a kid growing up in Michigan during the 50’s, I remember my father taking his old double-barreled 12 gauge shotgun, choked cylinder bore in both barrels, our Springer Spaniel and one of his hunting buddies almost every Saturday in October to hunt “pats.” I was too young to accompany him as he hunted his favorite grouse coverts, but I remember the smell of the paper-hulled shotgun shells he would bring home after a day in the field. I was well into my teen years before I learned that the term “pats” or “partridge,” in fact referred to ruffed grouse.
When I attended graduate school in Maine during the early 70’s, I discovered the joys of hunting ruffed and spruce grouse for myself. My memories of those times include my Black Lab, Troubles’ first point (yes, he actually pointed the bird rather than flushed it) and his picture-book retrieve of the first grouse he had ever seen or smelled. This particular bird was a spruce grouse. He was about five months old at the time.
I remember grouse hunting with a year-and-a-half-old Troubles on a beautiful October day in Maine. The leaves were in their prime New England fall colors and the sky was a gorgeous shade of blue. We were making our way down an old overgrown logging road when a “partridge” suddenly flushed from the alders on the left side of the trail. The bird rose about twenty feet and flew across the open toward some heavy spruce cover. I swung my 16-gauge pump on the grouse and fired just as the bird flew behind the thick top of a spruce tree on the right side of the trail.
My swing was right on, and the shot charge decimated the treetop just as the grouse flew behind it. Troubles disappeared into the spruce thicket. I assumed the tree had taken the brunt of the shot and the grouse had escaped. I called Troubles so we could continue the hunt when he reappeared with a ruffed grouse in his mouth. Over the years, Troubles found several birds I had hit when I thought I had missed.
On another trip into the Maine backwoods, I was investigating an area for inclusion in my thesis project. Troubles and I were the only two on that trip. The plan was to check out the area for soil sampling and collecting plant specimens within the location identified as a deer winter yarding area.
The plan was to sleep in the back of my small pick-up and cook noodles for dinner. As a graduate student, money for anything, including food, was scarce. As we drove down the two-track logging road, I spotted a ruffed grouse sitting on a stump off the side of the road. I drove past the grouse and stopped the truck.
Grouse season was open, but I had neglected to bring my shotgun. I did have my 357 Magnum revolver in case a black bear approached while we were cruising the woods. I also had some wadcutter ammo in addition to the “bear loads” I usually carried in the gun. I changed out the ammo in the revolver and slowly stalked the bird. I got within 10 to 12 yards, took a steady aim, and knocked the head off the bird (I did a lot of target shooting with that revolver back in those days). The bird dropped straight down off the stump.
When I walked over to retrieve the bird, it was nowhere to be found. I knew it hadn’t flown away and spent a moment scratching my head as to where the bird had gone. I started looking around the base of the stump, among the roots, and found a hole under the stump. I could make out feathers in the hole and, after laying down and reaching into the hole as far as I could, felt the bird and retrieved it. We had protein to go with the noodles that night!
Since coming to the Valley over 30 years ago, I’ve taken many spruce grouse, usually while hunting moose. The only ruffed grouse I’ve harvested was a clean, one-shot affair. I’ve only hunted ptarmigan a few times with limited success. I usually get out a few times specifically hunting for spruce grouse each year. Some of my favorite grouse areas have weapons restrictions. Trying to kill a grouse with a bow and arrow normally results in an empty game bag, a lost arrow, and an enjoyable day in the woods.