One of the most interesting aspects of grouse hunting is where you find them at different times during the season or even during the different hours of the day. The first and last hunts of a day are usually the best for grouse as they feed before and after a night’s roosting in a fir stand. As the weather gets colder they have to feed more and can be caught out at just about anytime if you know where to hunt. In early October we often find them in the raspberry canes that choke the old skid trails in many of the cuts we hunt. This year we had a great mast crop and there was a two week period in the middle of October where the grouse were almost exclusively to be found where there were mature beech trees mixed in fairly recent regeneration. We don’t have too many old farm covers but you can also catch the birds concentrated in the apples once they ripen and begin falling. After fruits and nuts, it was winter ferns and cinquefoil along with some birds that had alder catkins and even raspberry buds in their crops. As the season progressed the birds moved into the high bush cranberries and could be caught in them late in the day. Here at the kennel you can usually see 3 or 4 grouse at either end of the day in a row of cranberry bushes I left on the edge of the lawn to the south of the house. In the morning they arrive in the pre-sunrise light and fill their crops with berries then fly back into the softwood stand behind the house. At night they are there just before sunset and on at least one occasion when we flushed them with a dog, they came back to finish eating within a few minutes.
Yesterday was a perfect Cranberry Day. The first cover we hunted had no cranberries and we were only able to move three grouse, two of which came out of trees high over our heads. The second cover had birds in it a couple weeks ago but was empty of grouse Sunday. The third cover had cranberries in it and produced 8 grouse a bunch of five and then a bunch of three. The last cover had cranberries but at first we didn’t find any grouse. After we got back to the truck we went a little further down the road, Sam jumped into the cover then locked up. That’s when all Hell broke loose and eventually six grouse flew out of an area with cranberries. Heartened by that we went a little further down the road where the same scenario was repeated with another half-dozen grouse coming up one at a time in different directions in cover so thick you could hardly swing a gun. One finally made a fatal error and gave me a shot. The bird was hit pretty solidly and flew about fifty yard before dropping. I had it marked and Sam came in and pointed the dead bird before I got to it. Not a bad day, 23 grouse on the first of December with snow on the ground and a high temperature of about 35. After that Tony and I made a list of the covers we have that have high bush cranberries in them. A couple we haven’t even been in this year, but we’ll probably try them this week.
A couple of conclusions we can draw from this: one there are still a lot of birds around as we head into the winter, and 2, they should be in very good condition considering the mast crop this year. The scientific literature suggests that in years of good mast crops the hens produce more eggs the following spring. You can’t have broods of 10 or 12 if the hens only lay 7 or 8 eggs which we believe was part of the reason for the decrease in birds this year over the last two. that and a cold, wet spring combined for very low brood size. Tony has already started whining about how we need to have a good nesting season to get back on track with our grouse numbers. He thinks it works.