Public land hunting is often synonymous with ruffed grouse and woodcock hunting here in North America. We are incredibly fortunate to have free and easy access to a multitude of public lands rooted in the foundation of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. Established on the recognition that wildlife and wildlife-based recreation are an inherent public resource, this system ensures that wildlife and habitat will be managed and used for the benefit of the people.
Wherever you hunt the king of the forest or pursue the prince of timber, ample public land hunting opportunities are always available. As we continue to celebrate public lands month and eagerly await National Public Lands Day, which also happens to coincide with National Hunting & Fishing Day, September 26 2020, I can’t help but reflect back upon on how integral grouse and woodcock hunting on public lands has been to my own life.
Public Land, Public Grouse
The first ruffed grouse I harvested was on a sunny, warm, late October afternoon on Green Mountain National Forest property in Lincoln, Vermont, after a mishap in miscommunication ultimately became a cherished memory. My good friend and mentor Pat invited me on a woodcock hunt with his sprightly English Springer Spaniel, Griffin, despite my best efforts to persuade him to bring me to grouse country in hopes of bagging my first grouse. We shared some laughs after our meeting location mix up but quickly shifted focus, as notions of our “Plan B” began to develop when I suggested we explore the mosaic of national forest parcels that dot the foothills of the Green Mountains just outside of town.
Utilizing OnX maps, we identified the nearest property and made haste to dive into the woods. Arriving at our destination, we were greeted by the characteristic stone fences, regenerating fields of aspen interspersed with aging apple trees that typify many of the abandoned and overgrown farms of Vermont. A drummer sounded off as we closed the truck door and donned our vests – things were looking incredibly promising and I snickered with the chance to finally meet the ruffed grouse after all.
I took the right flank on the hike and within moments, Griffin flushed the drummer from underneath his conifer cover who abruptly fell victim to Pat’s quick draw. We pushed through the cover some more and after a few more minutes of walking, it was finally my moment. Sprung skyward on the nose of our swift canine companion, the bird took flight left to right as I mounted, swung, and sent both blasts of my over/under forward. The bird sailed straight out of sight as my curiosity awaited confirmation.
That bird must be in there I pondered, as Griffin was sent in for the retrieve as I stood anxious, all senses on high alert. I spied Griff’s tail twitching through the timber. As he emerged from the brush, proudly delivering the bird to hand, the culmination of all my time spent in study and pursuit of the ruffed grouse rushed over me as I held my bird and relished in unrestrained joy and admiration of my prize. I chuckled at the unique sequence of events that transpired that day.
Opportunity Through Adversity
This year has been challenging for all of us. Many have faced financial and emotional stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are still not out of the woods yet. For some, travel restrictions and quarantine requirements have altered or cancelled first time or annual fall hunting trips. Considering our current reality, let us turn toward opportunistic optimism and set our sights on appreciating the public land resources and grouse and woodcock habitats that exist closer to home.
If I can offer any advice as a novice grouse hunter, don’t overlook the prospect of a short and simple visit to a nearby public land cover. Many of us are working remotely, allowing for flexible work schedules and the novel chance to visit a local cover, sneaking in a hunt before or after work. Now is the time to visit state parks, national forests, municipal properties and other local, state and federally conserved lands.
No matter where you live, there are always public land hunting opportunities within reach. Developing a list of prospects to explore this season is easier than ever with the advent of mobile mapping software such as OnX or the public Geographic Information System databases and other resources offered by many local, state and federal land managers. If you are more of the outgoing type, send an email or place a call to your town clerk, state wildlife agency, park ranger, forester or conservation commission to find more information about the locations, access and management of public lands in your area.
How Do You Support Public Lands?
What better way to actively celebrate public lands month and National Public Lands Day than to get outside and experience firsthand your public lands and the abundant wildlife and healthy habitats they provide. Together, we can use this time to generate increased awareness of the status and threats to the public lands on our home turf.
Take action, and develop a connection with your environment, become motivated and get involved in conservation efforts. Consider joining the Ruffed Grouse Society/American Woodcock Society or plan a chapter event that reflects public land advocacy and stewardship.
Support for public lands can take on many forms, for some it means direct involvement and boots-on-the-ground work like clean-ups and habitat improvements, but let’s not neglect the significance of mentorship and the rewards of taking out a new hunter for their first upland bird hunt. Lifelong commitments to conservation are often sparked on those first experiences afield. And don’t ignore the simple yet powerful spiritual benefits of nurturing a personal connection with your local landscape.
I for one, welcome some of the changes brought on by the pandemic. It’s given me a renewed perspective and a fresh outlook on this fall hunting season. My focus will keep me closer to home exploring many of the ignored and underrated public lands in my area. September 26th happens to be the opening day of grouse season here in Vermont and I am more excited than ever to enjoy the pleasure of hunting wild birds on public lands.
About The Author
Chris Ingram is a freelance outdoor writer and photojournalist where he lives in Vermont with his wife. As an ardent bird hunter and public lands advocate, his motivations are rooted in sharing information, creating opportunity, promoting kinship and developing inspiring content in the sporting and conservation communities. Chris works in Outreach & Communications for the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department where he hopes to utilize his passion and enthusiasm to strengthen and unite the sporting community and conservation movement. To learn more about Chris and his work, check out Featherwind Creative on social media and visit www.featherwindcreative.com