No cookie-cutter template exists to define a grouse hunter. You don’t have to shoot a double-barrel side-by-side, run an English setter, and wear brand new gear to be a grouse hunter. If you do . . . great! But grouse hunters come in all shapes, sizes, practices and traditions – the more grouse hunters we have that appreciate the grouse woods experience and understand the need for conservation, the more effective we can be as a voice for healthy forests, grouse, woodcock and hunting.
Some of the best birds dogs with which I’ve had the pleasure to hunt (when I say “best” I’m not talking about my own by the way!) have been specifically bred for grouse hunting, their bloodlines traced back many years to the classic champions of bird dogs past. These dogs have the genes and are often paired with serious grouse hunters who either effectively train them or have the luxury of spending significant time hunting wild birds. But maybe the the best I’ve seen was owned by my uncle, a dairy farmer who never spent a dime on a dog. “Hoss” was a Labrador retriever with a mysterious lineage who hunted grouse, woodcock and pheasants, and of all my hunting memories that make me appreciate sporting traditions, I’ve enjoyed hunting with Hoss probably more than any. Any dog can hunt the grouse woods.
That being said, it is not even necessary to have a dog at all to successfully hunt grouse. Many of life’s responsibilities dictate whether dog ownership is viable, and if it doesn’t work for you, don’t let that hinder your ability to get to the grouse woods. In fact, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources determined that more grouse hunters hunt without dogs than with dogs in a 2010 statewide survey (53 percent without dogs versus 47 percent with dogs). No excuse exists to not hunt grouse.
Any shotgun can be a grouse gun – often times, the gun action, gauge and shot size are of personal preference – whether it be a side-by-side, over-under, single shot, semi-auto or pump, use what you have available and hit the trail. The same thing goes for gear and apparel. Sure, new-fangled products come out specifically designed for grouse hunting every year, but they are not necessary to be a grouse hunter. Some of my hardcore grouse hunting buddies look like they were dropped off a bus straight from 1975 with their floppy-eared hats, plaid-ripped shirts and tattered chaps, but despite that, they probably enjoy the grouse woods more than I do.
There are many serious hunters that prefer to only hunt grouse, but grouse hunters aren’t an exclusive club. For many, a game bird is a game bird, and a bird hunter is a bird hunter. Sure, there are significant differences in habitat, terrain and strategies between hunting various species, but I encourage those who are bird hunters to diversify. If you reside in the primary ruffed grouse range but hunt primarily pheasants, find some grouse habitat and hit the trail. If you reside outside the range, I’m telling you right now, book a grouse and woodcockhunting trip and travel next fall. As I always say, once you get bit by the grouse hunting bug, you are infected. It is an addiction that will bring you back for more.
The bottom line is that the Ruffed Grouse Society is a melting pot of grouse and woodcock hunters and forest habitat conservationists that care about preserving our sporting traditions for future generations. As long as you are ethical, honor the birds and appreciate the overall grouse hunt experience, it doesn’t matter what you look like and how you do it. The more inviting we are to new and all types of grouse and woodcock hunters, the better chance we have to build a bigger voice carrying our mission of preserving our sporting traditions by creating healthy forest habitat for the future.
~ First published 2016 Fall Ruffed Grouse Society magazine – From Point to Flush Editor Note by Matt Soberg.