Squirrel Hunting Information – How to and Where to Hunt Squirrels

Squirrel hunting

It is an enjoyable fall and winter sport. Where I live, squirrel hunting starts weeks before big game and ends in February – 2 ½ months after deer season ends. It can be as much fun as you want and it puts food on your table. If you want it will also put some money (very little) in your pocket. All you need is a good woodlot that is populated with trees that produce the food squirrels eat, a .22 caliber gun or shotgun and time. You can hunt alone, with the family dog or with a friend. A word of warning – never shoot into a squirrel nest. First – it is not sporting; second – you will probably never retrieve the squirrel and third – it is probably illegal. Always remember to be a responsible hunter.Gray squirrel
This squirrel present a classic pose for the hunter when squirrel hunting
Squirrels are found where their food is. I live just outside the Adirondack Park in New York. Much of the forest is “forever wild”. What that means in a lot of areas it is mature forest without much food producing trees. Just hemlock and old pines and a ground covered in needle litter. What you find here is pine squirrels and frankly they are too small for me to bother with. I look for mixed forests with oaks, wild fruit trees, maples and pine. Here you will find gray squirrels, a fairly large squirrel that lives in much of the eastern United States. Forest that border farm land can be very productive.

As with most hunting, if you are alone, being a bit stealthy is important. If you go tramping through the woods crunching leaves or just being loud the squirrels (as well as everything else) will typically hunker down and quietly wait for you to pass. Try walking slow and steady. Every once and awhile, stop and stay in place. If you wait for 10 to 15 minutes the squirrels in the area will start moving again and at that point the “hunt is on”. I know people that will walk into a good woodlot sit for about 15 minutes and use a squirrel call with excellent results.

Shotgunning for squirrels is a blast. Many times they will be running along branches or bouncing through leaf litter looking for fallen nuts. At these times I consider shooting as exciting as gunning birds. When hunting with a shotgun, it does not need to be a specific gauge. Anything from a 12 to a 410 will work – you will need to use more powerful loads, magnums if your gun is capable, with the smaller gauges. My preference is an old 20 gauge I have owned for over 30 years. I typically use 3” shells loaded with 1 ¼ ounces of # 6 shot. Since I support eating what you shoot, try for head shots to keep the pellets out of the meat. The nice part of hunting with a shotgun is that you can be opportunistic. Rabbit and grouse seasons mirror squirrel season where I live and when you carry a shotgun you have the chance at a mixed bag.

For a challenge you can hunt with a 22 caliber rifle. I have an old single shot 22 with a variable scope mounted on it; it has taken many squirrels over the years. If the squirrel does not present itself safely, try calling to it or make a small movement. The squirrel should react, usually by moving and often into a tree crotch so it can take a better look. If it runs around to the other side of the tree take a rock or branch and throw it past the tree. That may cause the squirrel to scurry back to your side presenting a good shot.

squirrel target click for download

The only issue with a 22 is being very careful when taking your shot. Wait for the squirrel to present itself either on the ground or if in a tree where the tree will act as a backstop if you miss. A 22 can travel almost 1 mile and for several hundred yards it will keep enough power to hurt, even kill, unintended targets. When I was younger I took a cousin hunting. He had a 22 caliber marlin auto-loader. Within one day he had went through almost 500 rounds with one squirrel in his bag. Many of his shots were in the air at squirrels in trees without backstops. No matter how much I explained the danger he continued. He has never hunted with me after that day.

Hunting with a dog for squirrels can be productive. This is one time you do not need to be quiet. The dog will work the ground find and tree squirrels. Frankly, you really do not need a “trained” dog as you would for birds or rabbits. I think the main requirements are:

  1. A dog not afraid of a gunshot sound,
  2. A dog that will listen and not run,
  3. A dog that loves to chase squirrels
  4. A dog that will not grab a downed squirrel and ruin the meat.

I had a Cairn terrier that hated squirrels and would tree them and stand there barking, that is all I needed. Once treed the squirrels were more concerned with the dog then with me moving into place.

If you are squirrel hunting with a friend stay spread out to about 40 yards and avoid screaming back in forth. Slowly walk along and often a squirrel will be pushed out of hiding toward one of the hunters. This is much like hunting deer.

I like to use squirrel when tying certain flies for fishing or adding hair to the treble hooks of spoons and spinners. If you harvest enough squirrels and have no use for the fur or tails, you can try to sell them. You will need to know how to prepare the skins to keep any value. A good place to find buyers is your local trappers club. You can find a local club by going to the National Trappers Association website: http://www.nationaltrappers.com. They can direct you to buyers as well as provide information about skinning and caring for the hides.

Another place you can sell to is to Mepps Fishing Lure company. They will buy the tails but are strict about the condition the tail must be in. Check out their website: http://www.mepps.com/programs/squirrel-tail/. I have never sent them tails but might start. I am a big user of their product and it would be nice to someday think that a small piece of the lure I am using came from my hunting efforts.

Rabbits & Hares Information, Identification

Rabbits and Hares


rabbits and hares have physical differences some subtle some obvious

Organizations:

I have not heard of one yet that pertains to both Rabbits and Hares. There are various clubs that focus on one over the other. Please email me with any links and we will post here  – contact TC

Rabbits and Hares Descriptions

– Rabbits are defined as medium-sized grazing mammals with long ears, long hind legs and bulging eyes on the sides of their heads. There are 18 different species living in the U.S. and Canada.

The male, is called a buck The female, called a doe, is larger than the buck.

Rabbits are primarily nocturnal animals. They can detect enemies by scent. They are extremely able runners and can switch direction in an instant, making them an extremely tough game animal to hunt.

Hares are generally larger than rabbits and, except for the snowshoe hare, are found in more open territory. Their young are generally born more fully developed.

Below are general descriptions of three of the more common species found in North America:

Eastern Cottontail
– Very common in its range of the eastern US. Coloration is grayish brown above, grizzled with black. There usually is a white spot on the forehead. Tail is cottony white and the feet are white above. The cottontail has long ears. The cottontail is approximately 14 ¾” – 18 ¼” long and weighs between 2 – 4 lbs. The hind foot is usually between 3 3/8″ – 4 1/8″ long. Habitat – Brushy areas, old fields, woods and farms.

New England Cottontail
– Coloration is brownish sprinkled liberally with black. As opposed to the Eastern Cottontail, which has a white spot on its forehead, the New England Cottontail has a black patch on its forehead. Its ears also are outlined by a black stripe. Tail is cottony white below and the feet are white above. This cottontail is approximately 14 ¼” – 19″ long and weighs between 1 ½ – 3 lbs. The hind foot is usually between 3 ¼” – 4″ long. Habitat – Brushy areas, old fields, woods and farms.

rabbits and hares snow shoe hares change color in winter
Snowshoe Hare – In summer color this hare is dark brown with a small tail dark above and dusky to white below. In the winter, mottled white  with brown to white, with black-tipped long ears. This animal has large hind legs that are well furred, hence the name. In certain parts of the country they may not change color. In the Adirondack Mountains, black individuals have been observed. This hare is approximately 15 – 20″ long and weighs between 2 – 3 lbs. The hind foot is usually between 3 7/8″ – 5 7/8″ long. Habitat – Northern forests.

Rabbits and Hares Food

– As stated previously, rabbits and hares are grazing animals. Greens, berries and in the winter woody material (such as my blueberry bushes) are eaten. You can tell a bush eaten by a rabbit, it usually looks as a clean cut at an angle (as opposed to deer that usually leave a ragged appearance). Bark of trees may be stripped 3-4″ from the ground. Breeding – Rabbits have the ability to breed several times per year. Their litters can average from 1 -6 (snowshoe); 1-9 (Eastern Cottontail); 3-8 (New England Cottontail) young. Gestation period is roughly 28 days but does vary by species. The Eastern Cottontail has the ability to have 4 litters each year – that is a possible total of 36 rabbits each breeding season. This is nature’s way of providing survival potential since almost all predators prey on them.



Scat
– Small pea sized and rounded. Usually in piles. This is one of the sure signs rabbits are around. They are like their domestic cousins, they eat and poop continually.

For jackrabbits, which are not only bigger but also tougher than other hares and rabbits, many hunters use hollow-points, some use 22 Magnums, and some even use .22 centerfire cartridges associated with long-range chuck shooting. When I lived out west, I would shoot jackrabbits with my 22-250. For those that want to attempt target practice with hunting, try this.

When rabbit hunting with a shotgun, missing is often caused by swinging ahead of the target and overshooting as the bouncing “bunny” abruptly switches course and vanishes. A smooth swing and good understanding of your guns performance are of little avail in this situation, so a majority of experienced rabbit gunners, whether they realize it or not are snap-shooters. They knock over rabbits the way many of us knock down grouse or woodcock, by getting on target fast and snapping off a shot the instant the muzzle passes the rabbit.

If you want to be prepared for opening season and make quick clean kills, get practice at a local range. Many clubs offer “running clays” that simulate rabbits. Take the time, spend the money and practice. It will not only make you a better shot, but will bring you in touch with others that share you passions.

Hunting rabbits can bring you through all types of country, everything from slash piles, greenbrier tangles, brush, shrubs, and high weeds of typical cottontail country to open fields where I sometimes walk up on other upland game.

Hunting Strategies:


Hunting alone
– When hunting alone for rabbits, as for most small game, it pays to pause now and then and switch directions slightly. This can unnerve and flush a rabbit from hiding just as it can flush a grouse or other game animal. Tracking rabbits on snow is often productive, even snowshoe hares that have turned winter white may be spotted by their dark eyes and ear tips, though their body may be almost winter white and sitting in screening cover. Having spotted a snowshoe hare, or any hare or rabbit, it’s often possible to stalk within gunning distance.

Hunting with partners – When hunting cottontails with friends, you can stage a rabbit drive. This doesn’t require standers to Intercept the game, because a rabbit’s first defense is to freeze at the approach of danger, hoping to escape detection. It moves when it senses that the hope is gone, and by then, you’ll, generally be quite close. Just form a line, spacing the hunters at wide intervals, and walk through fields, brushy meadows, and other promising patches of low cover. While jumping rabbits this way, you may also walk up on other upland game.

Hunting with dogs – When hunting with beagles (or other dogs – I used to have a Springer Spaniel that was an excellent rabbit dog), there’s a strong temptation to follow the dogs every time they start to chase a rabbit. This is precisely the wrong tactic unless your dogs are too pushy-in which case the rabbit will dive for a hole and whatever you do probably won’t matter. If your dogs press along with no terrifying rush, a rabbit will most often move in a rough circle of no more than a few hundred yards. It is traveling through its home grounds, confident that it can elude its present pursuers just as it has eluded predators. You won’t keep up with the dogs or the rabbit anyhow, so just wait in a fairly open spot or on the nearest little rise, preferably close to where the hounds first got hot. The rabbit will probably come bounding back, presenting a shot.

A young snowshoe hare will often behave like a cottontail when pursued by dogs. An older, more experienced one will often move over a much greater radius. Its first circle may cover a mile and never bring the game within your view. Find a fair vantage point commanding possible crossings. Try to stand where you’ll be inconspicuous, if not hidden, and be patient. Subsequent circles will shrink. The chase may be quick or it may last for hours. An exception to the rule occurs if the hounds soon move out of your hearing and seem to have taken a fairly straight course. Sometimes an old, experienced snowshoe hare runs straight out for quite a distance before circling. If this seems to be the case, you’ll be well advised to follow for a while and then take a stand where the hound music again grows loud.

Hunting times and places:

A warming trend after a cold spell makes for good hunting, regardless of which kind of rabbit you’re after and good places to look then are grassy, weedy, or brushy stretches along creeks and ditches. When cottontails are the game, be sure to check any strips of sumac,particularly if the strips have heavy ground cover. Sumac bark has a high fat content and cottontails love it as a winter food.

In very cold weather below about 12° cottontails hole up in burrows, dens, and the like. I generally hole up too, in that kind of weather, but snowshoe hares don’t. If you can take the cold, try combing the dense conifer swamps for snowshoes in midwinter. Jacks, too, usually stay out in cold weather. They may be warming themselves in brushy depressions, moving about searching for food, or sunning themselves on the warmer sides of hills.

Try not to dress a rabbit in the field, much less reward a dog with a bite of raw meat. There’s a hazard to dogs in this practice. Watery cysts called “bladder worms” are sometimes found in a rabbit’s body cavity. They’re larval tapeworms of a kind that can’t mature in a rabbit and are harmless to man, but are very dangerous to dogs.

Another rabbit parasite-fortunately, one that is no longer common is the Bacterium tularence, the producer of tularemia, or “rabbit fever”. It’s carried from rabbit to rabbit by ticks, fleas, and other biting insects. The meat of an infected rabbit is perfectly safe; to eat if thoroughly cooked, but it is possible for a human to contract this disease through a cut or abrasion. Check with your state game department if you have concerns or questions regarding if any diseased rabbits have been discovered and how best to handle raw meat. To find information about your local state agency check out our state agency page.

If you want to practice shooting – download the rabbit target.

Woodcock (Scolopax minor)


Common Names – Timberdoodle, woody, bog snipe

Organizations working for woodcock conservation are: Ruffed Grouse Society, National Audobon Society

Woodcock Description -The woodcock is a small, rotund bird with a long bill and large eyes positioned far back on the head. Well camouflaged, the woodcock is mottled with brown, black and rust colors, and has black barring across the top of the head. The sexes bear a close resemblance, although the female is slightly larger and has a longer bill. Juveniles resemble adults by early fall. Woodcock are solitary birds, however, they may be found in small groups during the spring and fall migration. Click here for Woodcock identification tips from the U.S.G.S.

Woodcock Size – Males measure 10 to 11 inches long and weigh 4 ? to 7 ounces; females, 11 to 12 inches and 6 to 9 ounces.

Woodcock Habitat
– Woodcock are migratory birds. They range over much of the eastern half of the United States and Canada. The birds favor moist woodlands with streams and swampy areas. Click on for information on woodcock habitat management from the University of Georgia

Woodcock Food – This bird feeds almost exclusively on earthworms, grubs and other invertebrates, using its long bill to probe in soft soil. The bill has a flexible tip, and the tongue and upper mandible are rough, letting the bird grasp its food underground. Because its eyes are set so far back on the head, the woodcock can easily spot predators while feeding.

Woodcock Breeding – The male is known for its courtship flight. After arriving on the breeding grounds, he establishes and defends a territory, usually along the edge of a field or woodland opening, The courtship flight, performed at dawn and dusk, begins on the ground with the male making “bzzt, bzzt, bzzt” sounds while strutting about and bobbing his head. Click to listen to a woodcock call. Next, he flies vertically in decreasing spirals, levels off and circles high above the, finally descending to the ground while uttering chickaree, chickaree calls. The male usually mates with more than one female

The female nests and raises the young on her own. The nest is a shallow depression in the ground, near a bush, tree or thicket that is scraped by the female. She usually lays three to four buff colored eggs that hatch in twenty-one days.

Woodcock Population – Declining – logging and land development on the bird’s breeding grounds is responsible for the diminishing bird count. Click for recent population trends for woodcock and conservation go to Aududon Society Watchlist or American Woodcock Status as of June 2003 from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
For additional information on the American Woodcock:
Woodcock information and population studies from Pennsylvania Game Commission
Wildlife information series Woodcock from Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection

Woodcock Hunting – The principal breeding range of these upland birds reaches across eastern Minnesota, Ontario, Wisconsin, Michigan, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Maine. Sizable, but smaller, breeding populations spend the summer in Ohio and to the east, from parts of New England down to West Virginia. Few of the birds breed in latitudes below that, but most of them winter in the Southeast, as far south as central Florida and across the Gulf Coast into eastern Texas. The most enormous wintering concentrations are found in Louisiana.

The birds migrate along three main flyways – one down the Atlantic Seaboard, one west of the Appalachians, and one through the Mississippi Valley. The middle corridor is used by the largest numbers of woodcock, but there’s woodcock hunting (and usually good hunting) in nearly 40 states and also in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. New Brunswick rivals Louisiana as a famous haven for woodcock and woodcock hunters. The yearly woodcock, are also impressive in Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, and New Jersey.

The birds migrate along three main flyways – one down the Atlantic Seaboard, one west of the Appalachians, and one through the Mississippi Valley. The middle corridor is used by the largest numbers of woodcock, but there’s woodcock hunting (and usually good hunting) in nearly 40 states and also in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. New Brunswick rivals Louisiana as a famous haven for woodcock and woodcock hunters. The yearly woodcock, are also impressive in Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, and New Jersey.

Migration is accomplished principally by a long chain of short flights, but here and there along the way, open water or a lack of good habitat necessitates flights requiring great stamina. The birds tend to gather in “staging areas” and rest before undertaking these nonstop flights. Thus, large numbers of woodcock gather in well known locations, resting, feeding heavily to build strength, and perhaps awaiting good flying weather. Probably the most famous of these spots is Cape May, New Jersey, where great swarms of woodcock rest during the hunting season before making the long crossing over Delaware Bay. To anyone familiar with typical woodcock coverts, the bushy barrens behind the Cape May beaches look like mediocre habitat at best, but the hunting there can be marvelous.

Woodcock are protected by the federal regulations governing the hunting of migratory birds. The open seasons are therefore set within federal guidelines, and these seasons are timed to coincide with the presence of “flight birds” as well as “natives”.

Usually (though certainly not invariably) woodcock flush close. They’re not very fast fliers, and if you hit one with only a couple of pellets, it will fall. Why, then, are woodcock missed so often? For one thing, the target is small – hardly bigger than an average man’s fist. For another, it will most often rise steeply and erratically, veering from side to side, sometimes spiraling like a corkscrew before leveling and flicking away. There’s also the difficulty inherent in one very common type of woodcock habitat – high brush, dense alder runs, or some other thicket of shrubs and saplings. Many woodcock are taken in cover not quite that dense, but dense enough to present a gun-swinging problem. Hence, it helps to have a light, short-barreled gun.

The brown and black mottling of a woodcock’s plumage is almost invisible when a bird is on the ground, whether it’s in brushy vegetation or sitting right in the open on a brown forest mat of leaves and twigs. When I walk in over a dog’s point, I mentally draw a line from the animal’s nose to give myself a clearer notion of where the bird will rise. Even so, I’m often a little surprised when a woodcock goes up closer than I expect or occasionally farther away or off to one side. Flushes can be still more surprising when you’re without a dog. Sometimes you hear a bird before you see it. The air passing through and around the three narrow outer primaries of each wing makes a light, twittering whistle (a sound some hunters mistakenly believe to be a vocally produced call). With or without a dog, I use my ears as well as my eyes to hunt. I also do a lot of ground watching because, even in fairly thick cover, it’s often possible to see a woodcock whirring upward but still very close to the ground. Those you’re slow to see are the ones most often missed.

The woodcock’s long, slim bill is the most reliable way to tell a male from a female, whether you’re truly interested or just want to impress a hunting companion. A male’s bill is rarely longer than 2 ? inches; a female’s almost always exceeds 2 ? inches. A male usually has a smaller body, too. In early October, a typical male weighs just a trifle more than 5 ? ounces, while a typical female weighs 7 ounces or a little more.

That peculiar bill whose flexible upper mandible hinges open and shut about midway out from the head is used to drill into the ground for earthworms. Very sensitive nerve endings in the bill enable the bird to feel for its hidden prey, and perhaps to sense it in some other way akin to taste or smell. Another reason for a woodcock hunter to be a ground-watcher is that a sprinkling of little round “borings” or “drill holes” in a small area indicates a promising covert where birds have been feeding heavily. Another kind of sign, much more easily and often spotted, is woodcock “chalk”-white spatters of liquid droppings about an inch across, quite conspicuous on the ground, on dry leaves, or on still-green undergrowth.

Many hunters who have seen the birds flying at dusk believe that woodcock are strictly nocturnal feeders, flushed during daylight only from the resting, watering, and hiding places. The birds do feed at night, but they also feed very actively at dawn, noon, and dusk. Early morning, midday, and late afternoon are good times to hunt the food-rich spots, and at other times the brush and woods are promising. However, the best habitat usually has a close mixture of feeding and resting grounds-which are often one and the same. In productive habitat, therefore, I’ve never found that the time of day mattered a great deal.

Good habitat has a birdy look about it. Bear in mind that the birds must have water and worms. Also bear in mind that worms don’t comprise their entire diet, except perhaps for short periods or in unusually worm-rich earth. They also eat insects and a few seeds and berries (among which, sedge seeds and blackberries are their favorites). Look for seeps, springs, brooks, and marshy bottomlands. Look for dark, soft earth with shrubs, young trees, and openings as well as thickets. Alders and young birches are well known for woodcock flushes because they grow in the right kind of soil and are the right size. The best stands of trees are only 10 to 20 feet high, growing close and rather tangled for concealment purposes, but with open or light ground cover so that the birds can drill for worms. In New Brunswick, most woodcock are flushed from alders, gray birches, and evergreens. A study in Maine showed nearly half of all flushes to be in alder runs. A Pennsylvania study indicated that when the birds weren’t in the alder bottoms, they were mostly on slopes with lots of crabapple or hawthorne. In Louisiana, the woodcock are mostly moved from among pines or alluvial bottomlands.

Where the types of coverts just described are lacking, or if they fail to produce flushes, other bird-attracting spots can be sought. The woodcock is closely related to the snipe and belongs to an order of shorebirds, but evolution has adapted it to a more or less upland life and a dependence on earthworms. Life in the uplands governs some of its behavior patterns. For example, on hot fall days, woodcock seek the humid coolness of deeply shaded resting places, and they’re often flushed from beneath evergreens. In cool weather, they’re often up on sun-warmed slopes, especially slopes that have concealing stands of birch or aspen. Bogs are a common type of shorebird habitat, and boggy fields often have worm-rich earth, so woodcock frequent such fields if escape cover is nearby. Sometimes they’re also found on cropland-for instance, cornfields adjacent to alders or similar cover. In old orchards, the fallen apples enrich the soil; I don’t know if the richness is what attracts worms, but usually they can be found there in abundance. Old orchards are good places to check for woodcock in the fall and dig for bait in the spring. So are overgrown pastures, where cows, rather than apple trees, drop an enrichment upon the soil.

For Woodcock hunting season and other hunter information check out:

Woodcock hunting information and population status from Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Wild Turkey

Organizations: National Wild Turkey Federation – http://www.nwtf.org

Description: Turkeys are the largest of the upland game bird species. Wild turkey is a dark bird with a naked, bluish head.

The male, also called a tom, has an overall coloration that is brownish black with an iridescent sheen. His wings have black and white barring. The tom has folds of red skin, called wattles, under the chin; fleshy, wartlike caruncles on the neck; and a fingerlike snood dangling beside the bill. A 4 to 10 inch projection of feathers, called a beard, extends from the breast. Additionally, the tom has spurs on his legs. Toms measure 36 to 48 inches long and weigh 17 to 28 pounds. Wingspan on a large tom may be over four feet.

The hen is smaller and browner than the tom, and lacks head features and does not have spurs. Hens measure 26 to 34 inches and 8 to 12 pounds.

The juvenile male, called a jake, and the juvenile female, called a jenny, resemble hens by fall, although they have a duller, more mottled color. After the first year, jakes are larger than hens, and have begun to develop a beard.

Turkeys can run over 20 miles per hour and fly up to speeds of 40 miles per hour.

There are five subspecies of wild turkey in North America:

The eastern wild turkey (M. gallopavo silvestris) is the most abundant of the five subspecies. It is found throughout most of the eastern United States. Its population is increasing because of introductions, such as those in the Pacific Northwest and North Dakota. It has a copper-bronze sheen, and its tail has a chocolate-brown tip.

Merriam’s wild turkey (M. gallopavo merriami) is found in much of the western United States, from Montana to Arizona. It is the most adaptable of the five subspecies, and its numbers and range have grown due to stocking efforts. It has a purplish bronze sheen, and a buff-tipped tail.

The Rio Grande wild turkey (M. gallopavo intermedia) is an open-country bird found primarily in the south-central United States from Nebraska through Texas and into Mexico. Its range has expanded westward thanks to stocking efforts. The overall body sheen is a pale copper, and the tail has a yellowish tip.
tom turkey
The Florida wild turkey (M. gallopavo Osceola) is found only in Florida, and has a relatively small, stable population. It is similar in appearance to the eastern wild turkey, but has darker wings and an iridescent, greenish gold body color. It may hybridize with the eastern turkey, where the ranges of the two subspecies overlap.

Gould’s wild turkey (M. gallopavo mexicana) is found in extreme southern Arizona and New Mexico and into northern Mexico. It resembles the Merriam’s subspecies, but has a bluish green sheen and a white-tipped tail. The population is stable.

Habitat – Turkeys are birds of the big woods. An individual bird requires from a few hundred to more than a thousand acres of ground with a combination of trees for roosting, a reliable water source and an open feeding area. In spring and summer, when the birds are nesting and raising broods, they seek openings in or alongside the woods, with dense, grassy cover at least 3 feet high. In winter, they prefer more densely wooded habitat.

Birds in the East generally inhabit dense, mixed-hardwood forests and river bottomlands adjacent to agricultural lands. Birds in the West and South prefer pine and oak forests near streams. Florida birds are found in oak and pine woods, palmetto flats and cypress bottomlands.

Wild turkeys move seasonally between nesting and wintering areas, but seldom travel more than two miles. In mountainous areas, wild turkeys occupy higher elevations in spring and summer, and lower elevations in fall and winter, sometimes moving as much as forty miles between ranges.

Food – Wild turkeys eat mostly plant material, including fruits, acorns and other nuts, small grains, and the seeds, shoots and roots of grasses and various other plants. They also eat many types of insects, small amphibians and even lizards. Turkeys generally fly down from roosting trees to feed in early morning, and return to the trees in the evening.

Breeding – Toms start their breeding displays in early spring while still gathered in flocks in the wintering areas. With tail fanned, feathers fluffed and wing tips dragging, the tom struts boldly while emitting low-pitched hums. He repeats this display, coupled with the characteristic gobble call, until he attracts a hen. The most dominant toms breed with the majority of hens, continuing to display after each mated hen goes off to nest. By late spring, breeding is nearly complete and the male’s display begins to taper off. The hen becomes very secretive at nesting time, distancing herself from other hens. The nest site is usually under or near a log, bush or clump of vegetation. She scrapes a shallow depression, lines it with leaves and twigs, then lays 8 to 14 buff-colored brown-speckled eggs, which hatch in about 27 days. The young poults grow quickly and can make short flights within 8 to 10 days.

Social Interaction – Wild turkeys gather in wintering flocks that range from less than a dozen to several hundred birds. In spring, just before the mating season, this large flock divides into three sexually segregated groups: one consisting of hens, another of jakes and a third of toms. In the latter, a single tom emerges to do most of the breeding.

turkey in winter mode

Because of restoration efforts by wildlife management agencies, North America has more wild turkeys now than it did during pre-settlement days.

Hunting – In states where there’s an early fall season, good turkey-hunting land has grasses and brush to support insect life, for at this time of year, both the adults and the juveniles may still be eating quantities of insects. In the spring, too, good habitat usually has some brush or swampy places. And regardless of season, there must be ponds, creeks, seeps, or swamps to provide water. Whether a hunt is in fall, winter, or spring, most of the best spots have stands of hardwoods that supply mast-acorns, beechnuts, or hazelnuts. Where these favorite foods are lacking, however, conifer seeds are heavily utilized. But bear in mind that at some times of year or in some regions, mast may be scarce or absent, and very different foods will attract turkeys: chufa grass, sumac, wild grapes, dogwood, ragweed, and all sorts of berries. Though wary, the birds will also come to farmlands for corn, sorghum, or oats.

Specific foods and feeding periods are most important during a fall hunt, when sexual attraction won’t keep the gobblers moving about or draw them as eagerly to a call that sounds like a hen’s yelp. Although turkeys feed intermittently throughout the day, and you might find them in the woods at any time, they forage most intensively for a couple of hours after dawn and before dusk, and those are the best hunting times.

A productive area must have appropriate roosts as well as foods. Turkeys prefer to spend the night in tall trees, usually more than 60 feet high and situated on a ridge or at the edge of a clearing so that no obstructions will interfere with emergency flight. In most regions they like oaks, cottonwoods, pines, spruces, and firs. In parts of the South they roost in cypresses over water (a natural moat to impede the approach of any predators). Sometimes they use the same trees for several successive nights. Even though turkeys can frequently change roosts, roosting sign is worth looking for because these birds usually stay within a fairly small area throughout the year.

Roosting sign is composed of molted feathers and quantities of droppings. A hen’s scat is looped, spiraled, or bulbous; a tom’s is longer and straighter, with a knobby twist at one end. Near roosts and in foraging areas, you may also find the big triple-toed tracks, sometimes more than six inches long. If a footprint is more than 4 1/2 inches long, a mature tom probably made it, and if the stride is over 11 1/2 inches long, it was almost certainly made by a mature tom. Also watch for scratching and digging in mast where the birds have been foraging. Another worthwhile kind of sign consists of dusting spots. These are shallow ovals, not easy to spot but sometimes marked by feathers, droppings, or tracks. Favored places for dusting are under sumacs or small trees and beside logs or burned brush. In scouting for such sign or for the birds themselves pay attention to old roadsides and trails, which the birds sometimes use not only for dusting and gritting but also for easy traveling between foraging areas.

A primary hunting method in the fall is to locate and scatter a flock (which is apt to be composed of hens and juveniles) and then call. The birds are listening for one another as they regroup, and calling will often lure one into view of your hiding spot. To locate a flock, hunters generally scout for scratching and the other kinds of sign described in mast high up on slopes, atop ridges, and on high flats.

There are more methods than you ordinarily see described in of the magazine articles that tend to emphasize the drama of calling. For example, as you scout for a flock in woods known to hold turkeys, it pays to stop occasionally, hide, and call, even if you’ve neither seen nor heard any indication of birds. This is because other hunters may already have scattered a nearby flock, in which case you have a good chance of calling in a bird.

The proper calling sounds to rally scattered turkeys in the fall are the big clucking, gobbling, and trilling. There are instructional records and tapes, as well as numerous books, to help you learn the right sounds to use both in fall and spring.

Another autumn method is to still-hunt, pretty much as you would for deer. In its pure form, this technique isn’t very productive. That is, a hunter doesn’t often get a shot at a bird spied while he slowly stalks through the woods. But if the still-hunter gets no shot during his stop-and-go progress, he can occasionally hide and call for a while, or he may find sign or even get a glimpse of a distant bird, and he can then wait on stand, either calling or just watching and waiting. Still-hunting is best in bottomlands where there’s screening brush, and on brushy slopes. When working the slopes, move to the summits every few hundred yards to scan the opposite hillsides. Good ‘Stands are generally near the edges of fields or clearings, or overlooking small, openly wooded valleys, or near old roads, trails, or burns.

It pays to scout a turkey area thoroughly, then go on stand near a roost well before sunrise. The birds may start calling while it’s still dark, and they’ll probably begin moving at first light. If you don’t take a turkey from such a stand in the early morning, you can try again very late in the afternoon-just in case a turkey goes to roost early.

You must be concealed when you go on stand. You’ll probably find plenty of natural blinds-logs, boulders, blowdowns, clumps of brush, etc. but it’s not a bad idea to pack along a roll of camouflage netting to improve such blinds. Sometimes, too, you can enhance a natural blind with fallen branches, brush, and twigs.

Camouflage apparel is also a great help. Most hunters wear a camouflage-pattern jacket, pants, and hat. Some wear a camouflage face-net or mask, or blacken their faces and hands with burnt cork, or apply camouflage grease paint, which is available at many archery-equipment outlets and some general sporting-goods stores. A few hunters go further, wearing camouflage gloves and even camouflage-pattern shoes or boots.

The basic types of store-bought calls are boxes with hinged handles, boxes with separate strikers, tubes, slates, box or wingbone suction calls, aluminum-groove calls and diaphragm yelpers. Some are more popular (or traditional) than others in various regions. The diaphragm type takes some practice to make it sound right, but it has the advantage of leaving both your hands free, and it can be quite realistic. It’s a vibration device, worked between your tongue and the roof of your mouth.

In the spring hunting season, sexually receptive hens call to any available males by uttering rather plaintive yelps, which sound something like keowk, keowk. This is the most basic and frequently effective call. It isn’t the only sound you need. When flying from a roost, turkeys sometimes yelp more softly, and they often cluck and trill while feeding. An imitation of these calls isn’t important (though it might attract a gobbler’s attention) but once in a while such sounds may help you locate birds. More important is the gobbling and yodeling of the males-sounds used to warn other males away and respond to calling females. The basic gobbling sound might be described as a high, throaty gl-obble-obble-obble, sometimes preceded by or combined with a more yodel- grrrrddle sound.

Calling is usually best when there’s little or no breeze. When rustling wind can cover the sound of approaching predators, turkeys remain still and hidden. On calm days they’re active, and their gobbling can sometimes be heard at a distance of more than half a mile.

Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus)

Information on the physical characteristics, behavior, habitat, and conservation of ruffed grouse.

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse – Bonasa umbellus

Organizations:

Ruffed Grouse Society providing grouse habitat management and information
Magazine about grouse and other upland bird hunting – www.uplandalmanac.com

Ruffed Grouse DescriptionLearn how to identify Ruffed Grouse, its life history, cool fact

-The ruffed grouse is identified by its tail with a black band near the end and the patch of feathers “ruffs” on the neck.

The birds have two distinct color phases, both of which may occur in the same family. The red phase predominates in the southern part of the range; the gray phase, in the northern part and at high altitudes. Red-phase birds have a mottled, brownish body and chestnut-colored tail. Gray-phase birds have a mottled, grayish body and gray tail.

Males are identified by the unbroken black tail band. In females, this band is less distinct on the central two feathers (below). On both sexes, the legs are feathered down to the base of the toes. Juveniles resemble adults by fall, although they are slightly smaller. For further descriptions of Grouse click on Ruffed Grouse Society Ruffed Grouse facts or check out Ruffed Grouse identification tips from the USGS

Ruffed Grouse Size – Adults measure 17 to 20 inches long and weigh 1 to 1 1/2 pounds. Males are slightly larger than females.

Ruffed Grouse Habitat

– Found throughout most of Canada and Alaska through the northern continental United States as far south as Georgia. They are border animals – that is they are mostly found in mixed-age woodlands with a combination of aspen, alder and birch intermixed with evergreens such as hemlock and pine. In the southern part of the range, the birds are found in woodlands with evergreen shrubs, such as holly, mountain laurel and rhododendron. Click on Grouse habitat management to learn how to make your land grouse friendly. Additional habitat information can be found at:

Ruffed Grouse habitat Management at Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries

Ruffed Grouse habitat Management at the Department of Fish and Wildlife publication A Landowner’s Guide to Wildlife Habitat Management for Vermont Woodlands

Ruffed Grouse information and habitat management from Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife

Grouse Movement

– These birds spend their lives in a very small area usually no more than 50 or so acres. In early fall, however, young birds dispersing from their family may move miles away, an activity sometimes called the fall shuffle.

Ruffed Grouse Food

– Ruffed grouse feed on the fruits and buds of a wide variety of trees and shrubs. Populations are highest in areas with plenty of aspens – preferably older male trees, since these offer the most nutritious buds.

Ruffed Grouse Breeding

– Males establish territories in early spring, when the snow begins to melt. To attract a mate, the male finds a perch on logs, rocks, ground humps etc. and drums by making a series of wing beats that begins slowly and gradually accelerates. The sound travels over a distance and sound something like – thump….thump…thump, then the wing beating becomes fast like a lawnmower engine starting.

After breeding, the hen nests in a wooded area where there is a dense canopy to protect against hawks and owls and an open nderstory to let her spot approaching predators. She lays 8 to 14 buff-colored eggs in a shallow depression, usually against the base of a tree or in a clump of brush. The eggs hatch in about 24 days, and the chicks remain with the hen for 3 to 4 months before dispersing m the fall.

Information on the physical characteristics, behavior, habitat, and conservation of ruffed grouse.Ruffed Grouse Social Interaction

– Ruffed grouse do not form coveys like quail. However, small groups may be found around a food source. In the winter, birds often group together to snow roost -diving into fluffy snow to keep warm and evade predators. Ruffed grouse are not particularly vocal, but females may cluck softly and sometimes squeal to warn chicks of danger, and both sexes may hiss to defend their territory.

Ruffed Grouse Population

– Cyclical. In much of their range, ruffed grouse undergo 7 -10 year population cycles. Numbers in good years may be 15 times higher than in poor years.

Ruffed Grouse

Hunting – Grouse hunters often speak of snap-shooting-meaning that a ruffed grouse may flush so fast, so unexpectedly, that there’s no time for the kind of gun-swing that’s effective in most kinds of wingshooting. Instead, you snap the gun up and fire instantly, instinctively, as the muzzle passes the target. For this, you need a light, fast-handling shotgun that fits you well and doesn’t tend to get caught in brush or branches as you bring it up.

When hunting with a dog, particular attention must be paid to pick the right “four-legged” partner. The chief attribute of a good grouse dog is a nose so sharp that the animal freezes into a staunch point at a mere whiff of grouse before getting close enough to flush the bird. The next most important attribute is the habit of working close to the gun, combined with a willingness and learned ability to obey commands. Although some hunters feel that a fast-moving pointer pins birds more effectively than a slow one, you don’t want a wide-ranging quail dog for grouse because that kind of pointer will merely bump birds out of range or beyond screening foliage where you won’t even see them dodge away. The third most important attribute is visible “birdiness.” Some dogs give little or no sign that game is near until almost ready to point. Others become excited enough to alert you in advance, and this is a big help with grouse.

Since a grouse dog must work close to the gun, grouse hunters are inclined to take special care in training their dogs. It isn’t that they use any unique training methods but that they use the conventional ones more thoroughly. Any young dog that works too independently of the gun (or an older one in need of refresher lessons) may be slowed down by attaching a heavy chain or even a sash weight to his collar. This can be an especially needed corrective with a dog to be used for grouse hunting.

In winter, grouse often burrow completely under the snow, or sometimes they burrow partway down in a sheltered spot beneath a low umbrella of vegetation such as rhododendron. The legs of these birds are feathered almost to the toes, and at this time of year, the toes themselves are fringed with rods of cuticle called penctinations, which provide support on snow and are shed in the spring. This enables grouse to walk quite well on snow.

When hunting on a snow, you may occasionally see a little oblong crater where a grouse has landed. From there, try to follow its wide 2 ¼ or 2 ½ inch-long, three-pronged tracks. Each left or right print is placed rather precisely in front of the previous one. The bird may have taken off again, leaving only wing prints in the snow at the trail’s end, or the trail may give out in tangles of brush or clear ground beneath overhangs. But once in a while, you may follow to where a grouse has dug in. If there’s considerable snow on the ground, try to mark down any bird you move as precisely as you can. Working on snow, your dog might otherwise have trouble locating it for a second flush. Or perhaps you’re hunting without a dog. Either way, following the tracks can be worthwhile. For Ruffed grouse seasons and bag limits click to STATE AGENCIES on our site.

Magazine – www.uplandalmanac.com

Click on South Dakota Division of Wildlife to read about Grouse hunting in South Dakota.

Click on Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to read about Grouse hunting in the TOP grouse hunting state

Click on Maine Hunting Guides to book a hunting trip for Grouse in Maine

Click on Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to read about Sharp-tail Grouse Hunting in Wisconsin – a great state to be in

Click on New York DEC to read about Grouse Hunting in New York

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