Know Your Grouse Cover
You have waited all year for grouse season to arrive. Like many, you have your gear, maybe a new shotgun and shells, and the dog is tuned up and ready to go. Hard to tell which of you is more excited.
Your travels lead you to familiar covers that have in the past held a promise of multiple flushes. As you and your dog work the grouse cover, anticipation is building for that first point and the explosion of wings. But it never comes, and your heart is sinking fast.
The grouse cover is quiet and has changed. You recall all the times you have hunted it and all the years you keep returning. However, time has marched on and the cover is past its prime. This is a familiar story that many of us have experienced. We rely on our memory of the past and the successful hunts we’ve had in an area only to find out that our most favorite spot is now too old.
If you are targeting aspen cover, you’re typically looking for habitat primarily in the nine to 16 year age range, give or take. Soil, elevation, seasonal weather and even harvesting techniques can determine the quality of each cut. You are also looking for specific stem density, which in turn will give you a specific canopy density, which in turn will determine the amount of weeds or lack of weeds found on the floor of the cut. Everything is interrelated. You need a floor where the strawberries and the bunch berries and other small salad-type plants flourish, not a floor full of foxtail and goldenrod.
Grouse are very habitat-specific birds. The better the quality of a cut the more they like it. It is not only the cut itself but the quality of the habitat surrounding a cut that plays an important role. Not all cuts are created equal! Escape cover, late season cover, shrub component and shrub component density all play a role in creating a safe, food-rich environment for the grouse.
As the season changes so do the rules! Early season the birds are shifting. The young of the year are searching for new habitat to spend the winter. The hen is looking for habitat that will also work during the winter. The only constant is the mature male grouse who is in his eight to 11 acres, give or take. His world consists of habitat that will support him year-round. Habitat that offers food, cover during any weather and easy escape routes and cover all within proximity of each other. Winter is a very tough season. Escape areas, food and transitional changes in habitat as well as a good quality understory are important elements. Everything must be one-stop shopping for these birds.
Grouse Cover Questions
Ask yourself the following questions before each hunt:
- What has the weather been leading up to the day you are going to hunt? Have the grouse been able to consistently feed, or has the weather prevented this?
- What will the weather be in the morning or afternoon of the hunt? Storms, hot, high humidity or winds?
- If we are going to have a wet day, where are the conifers where a grouse can stay dry?
- Where are the quiet places if it is windy? This calms a grouse to be out of the wind.
- If it has been dry, where will the salad-type food have moisture?
- Are we going to be hunting in shadows of pines or in full sunlight next to the pines?
- Where are the escape areas for the birds?
- How hot will it get? In hot weather, birds feed early and late in the day.
You could add more to this list, but this is a good starting point.
You can target the aspen cuts that are in the nine to 16 year age range and identify escape areas as well as areas for shelter during wet weather. Wet days with occasional rains? No problem. Start identifying cuts adjacent to lowland conifers. On windy days look for cuts near hardwoods on the upper side of a cut that drops down to lowland conifers and tag alders and then to water. The area where it drops down into lowland cover is where the wind will sweep over the top and create pockets where it is a quieter environment. In woodcock areas look for young cuts near tag alder runs.
When it is hot, look for areas that provide shade. When the dew is coming off, hunt the sides of pines that receive the morning sun and dry the area off away from the pines. When it is hot, work the shadows of the pines where it will be cooler.
Understanding the habitat needs of a grouse makes all the difference in what type of habitat you will be searching for. The same goes for any upland bird species. To know the birds is to understand their needs for food cover and habitat requirements for all seasons.
Early season is a time of change and shifting before the birds move into their late season habitat. You will need to identify a variety of areas that will meet the needs of these birds as the weather is changing and the time is getting closer to when the birds settle into their winter habitat.
Grouse like variety. Just one type of cover is not enough to meet their needs as the season changes. Many of the best covers have a mixture of habitat.
Knowing where the cuts are located on public lands is the first problem to solve. The next is matching the cuts and the surrounding habitat to the current weather, temperature, and time of day and year.
Over time you will learn the patterns of the birds and what they are looking for. You will start to see an area and about the same time you think it looks “birdy” your dog is on point. Keep notes about the weather, temperature and hunting conditions as all these factors contribute to your hunt. In time, patterns will start to emerge. Grouse hunting is a lifelong pursuit but very rewarding in the time you spend outdoors in beautiful habitat with your dog and your friends who share the same passion.
Bonus | Using Scout-N-Hunt to Find Grouse Cover
Now some of you may say, “I have never been there.” I don’t know how to find the cuts? No problem. Ever hear that a picture is worth a thousand words? Information is a critical part of today’s world and with that comes new opportunities to learn about habitat, and in turn use that information on your grouse hunts in locating cover.
Where do you find this information or a map that will show you the cuts, with the surrounding habitat and cover on public lands? You could do extensive research of imagery then work at interpreting the imagery and creating your own maps. However, an easier method which is also more accurate and more efficient is to use a mapping app called Scout-N-Hunt®.
Scout-N-Hunt® identifies the prime grouse habitat, and the habitat that surrounds the cover, and uses your phone or tablet GPS to identify your position in relationship to the habitat. All the while working offline and identifying the public land boundaries. There is no need to download an area you researched and save it for future use. As you research the area, you can seamlessly download the tiles of imagery and they are saved for future use. You can create waypoints, tracks and save projects and select from a list of base maps to bring in under the map’s numerous layers.
With the cuts identified you can start to plan your hunt.
I like this area above. The reason is that there’s a lot going on and plenty of opportunity for the grouse to shift into dense cover. That means there is a better chance for survival of the young of the year. So let’s break this down:
Prime cuts (bright red) 2009/32.04 means the cut was harvested in 2009 and the cut is just over 32 acres.
On this map there are five areas that contain prime habitat, three cuts that are 2009, one cut that is 2007 and one cut that is 2010. That indicates there are a lot of options for the birds to shift around and start to build up a potential population. But it also shows that they are near each other which means there is less travel.
Then there are a few aspen cuts that are older. Each of these cuts typically have a shrub understory as well as a few conifers in the mix.
Areas where the grouse will get out of the weather and try to escape into thick cover include:
C = Cedar means an escape area into lowland conifer and an area to get out of the weather.
Sb = Black Spruce are areas that birds will escape into thick lowland conifer and get out of the weather.
Ta = Tag Alder a lowland shrub that is very thick and birds like to escape to. This shrub has leaves and does not offer a good place to go when the weather is bad.
The conifer is close to each cut and the tag alder literally wraps around some of the cuts. All of this is great for a grouse to up its chances for survival.
For a bit higher ground, we have the following:
Fb_A_Bp = Balsam fir _Aspen _ Paper Birch. This is mixed conifer and hardwood cover; it sometimes will have hazel understory as a shrub component.
A = Aspen
Scout-N-Hunt® gives you a way to research new areas and, in most states, it is statewide coverage. No guessing where the public lands are located or the boundaries—all of this is easily identified on the map. No legend is needed; just tap on the shape and a white panel will appear at the bottom of the screen and you can pull the tab up and identify the habitat.
Ann M Jandernoa
Northwind Enterprises, LLC firstname.lastname@example.org